The other day, 5 August, marked a grim milestone in the national coronavirus pandemic. There were 725 new cases in Victoria, a new record. Of all the six states, Victoria has been hit hardest. Exactly a week ago, 723 new COVID-19 cases were recorded in that state. We thought we’ve seen the worst of it, until two days past. All this transpired while Victoria was in lockdown. Since the other week, masks have been mandatory across the state. Hefty fines have been promulgated to ensure that the public would abide. A state of disaster has been declared last week, and Stage 4 restrictions have been in place since Wednesday. The level four provisions represent the strictest measures yet in the country.
Victoria: some background
Situated south of the state of New South Wales (NSW), Victoria likewise shares a border with South Australia. The Bass strait separates Victoria from the state of Tasmania. The state, in particular Melbourne, is renowned for being the nation’s sporting capital. Melbourne is also the country’s fashion nexus, a food haven, an arts hub, and is a centre for higher learning. In 2016, I visited Melbourne for the first time. The metropolis is more laidback compared to Sydney. Our hotel was just across the road from Southern Cross Station, Melbourne’s transit axis. Trams were also the primary way of getting around the city centre and has been for a while. Meanwhile, the Emerald City has just reintroduced trams across downtown. I shared my story of visiting the Great Ocean Road and the Twelve Apostles. My friend and I also ventured into Bendigo, where we joined a tour down a gold mine.
The second tide
Human recklessness inspired the second wave in Victoria. People who were supposed to be in hotel quarantine blatantly breached these measures. They tricked and lied their way out of their bubbles, endangering public safety in the process. As with other states, visitors to Victoria were to be under fourteen days’ self-isolation. The premier, Daniel Andrews, underscored the quarantine fiasco on 2 July. The Victorian and New South Wales governments agreed to close their shared border on 6 July. At first, surges in infections were attributed to housing blocks. The state government subsequently locked down these premises. However, despite confronting the problem, infection rate continued to rise. Soon, entire suburbs were being secluded. The numbers of cases were getting out of hand.
On 19 July, Premier Andrews announced that the denizens of Melbourne were to sport ‘face coverings’ in public. This was to be enforced from 11:59pm on Wednesday the 22nd of July. From 2 August, Victoria was under a ‘state of disaster’. July 30 saw the number of new infections climb to 723, toppling the prior single-day Australian record by over 190 cases. Just two days ago, a man in his 30s was one of 15 deaths. As per Mr Andrews, the casualty shows that the ‘virus does not discriminate.’ Whether you are here or abroad, young or old, the disease carries a sickle. For Melbournians, there has been a curfew between 8pm and 5am. To show that they’re serious about enforcing these tough new manoeuvres, the Victorians have called in the military.
With stage four restrictions, Melbourne virtually shuts down for six weeks. Most shops will close during the lockdown. Pictures of a deserted Federation Square and an empty Bourke Street Mall (the world-renowned shopping district) painted a thousand words. Reporters on the scene were sporting masks, with only the occasional auto. It wasn’t quite the zombie apocalypse, but it was close. Only a few businesses were open in this unprecedented time. Among them were supermarkets, bottle shops, pharmacies, gasoline stations, banks, and post shops. While big retailers and department stores did their best, they ultimately came up short in their bid to trade. There are some notable exceptions. For instance, hardware chain, Bunnings has closed their bricks and mortar stores but are open for pickup. While butchers remain open, only two out of three meat factories will operate. More importantly, residents are only permitted to travel around five kilometres off their homes. Just one earthling per household is authorised to do the groceries for the day. Since schools are closed, students must do their coursework at home. These provisos will be in place till 13 September.
The kittens and their ‘mittens’
In spite of this catastrophe, some kittens refuse to get the memo. There was that chick who refused to wear a face mask even though this was required at Bunnings. She even made it a point to burn a few masks later on. On another occasion, some teenagers were confronted by police for not wearing masks. They were then seized, with the cops forcibly (and comically) putting the masks on them. In this pandemic, I guess any publicity is good publicity – even if it’s all of fifteen minutes. In another instance, three girls went from Victoria to Queensland. They lied and hoodwinked authorities and proceeded to leave their paw prints even as they tested positive for COVID-19. Even though these cats followed COVID-safe guidelines in their visits, they are facing charges for their lack of prudence. Their names will be etched as the kittens who brought their ‘mittens’ to Queensland.
The jury is still out on whether these steps are enough. However, the fact that the Victorian government and its constituents have tried are the first paces in a marathon. As winter draws to a close, we could but hope that the second wave does the same. Allow me to quote a line from a favourite film: ‘The rest of those who have gone before us cannot steady the unrest of those to follow.’ The departed are footnotes and their demise only highlights our own mortality. We must focus on our respective paths and face our fears head-on. The state government has seen the scourge of the pandemic and, by doing damage control, is trying to curb unnecessary, peacetime deaths. While the state of Victoria hibernates, everyone wishes that spring would bring better returns. Give the Melbournians credit.