Lockdown scars will linger Down Under

All statistics pale next to the nearly 5 million deaths worldwide attributed to the pandemic

  
Pedestrians walk through the city centre during a lockdown to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, September 30, 2021.

Pedestrians walk through the city centre during a lockdown to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, September 30, 2021.

REUTERS/Loren Elliott

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

MELBOURNE  - Australia’s record-setting lockdown run has come to an end, but its effects will last for longer. With a 70% vaccination rate achieved, Victorian officials on Friday relaxed strict home confinement measures on 5 million residents representing about a fifth of the national population. Bars and barbershops can expect a burst of consumer spending that should help the country’s A$2 trillion ($1.5 trillion) economy bounce back. The tab for mental health ailments, closed borders and other related issues keeps growing, though.

All statistics pale next to the nearly 5 million deaths worldwide attributed to the pandemic. Australia accounts for fewer than 1,500 of them, helping politicians justify draconian steps used to contain Covid-19. Even so, some of the figures help illustrate the toll exacted on Melburnians who have streamed their way to the end of Netflix and are staggering back into schools and society with longer hair and extended waistlines.

The city’s latest lockdown, its sixth, lasted 78 days. It brought the total since March 2020 to 263 days, far more than Sydney and ahead of second-place Buenos Aires. In Melbourne, that typically has meant not straying more than 5 kilometres from home and only going out to buy food, get some brief outdoor exercise or seek medical attention. A 9 p.m. curfew was enforced. Kids have learned remotely for 169 days, according to one count compiling data from official sources. Some 15% of the city’s residents received pandemic-related government support.

It will be another couple of weeks before 80% of the region is fully inoculated and other restrictions, including on retail, are lifted. With infections rising in Melbourne, it will also require some resolve to resist any reversal.

In the meantime, shops are clearing out cobwebs and Qantas is firing up aircraft sooner than expected. Many business trips between Sydney and Melbourne could be permanently replaced by Zoom calls, however. And with some Australian states only selectively opening internal borders, some domestic travel will be delayed. Immigration constraints also persist and threaten to curb output, while psychologists and other industry groups say the country needs to import trained workers to fill gaps. National leaders are facing questions about misspent subsidies too. The many lockdown scars are going to linger.

CONTEXT NEWS

- The Australian state of Victoria, where Melbourne is located, reached a 70% fully vaccinated target on Oct. 21, prompting the government to end a sixth pandemic-related lockdown that started in early August.

- From 11:59 p.m., pubs and cafes are allowed to have 20 fully vaccinated patrons indoors and 50 outdoors, while hairdressers are permitted to have five customers enter. Protective masks are still required indoors and outdoors. More restrictions are set to ease once an 80% inoculation rate is reached.

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

(Editing by Una Galani and Katrina Hamlin) ((For previous columns by the author, Reuters customers can click on GOLDFARB/ SIGN UP FOR BREAKINGVIEWS EMAIL ALERTS https://bit.ly/BVsubscribe | jeffrey.goldfarb@thomsonreuters.com; Reuters Messaging: jeffrey.goldfarb.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))


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