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Public health experts have backed the Victorian government’s decision to extend Melbourne’s stage four lockdown and only lift all restrictions once there is no community transmission of Covid-19, but have questioned the effectiveness of the overnight curfew.
The stage four lockdown has been extended for two weeks with some allowances made for single people living alone and a doubling of the time permitted for exercise. After that, from 28 September, the harshest measures of stage four will continue – including the curfew – but people will be able to meet in larger groups outdoors and some students will return to school.
Dr Stephen Duckett, the health program director from the Grattan Institute, said that the roadmap was based on “conservative” modelling from a reputable group and the steps outlined by the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, on Sunday appeared to be on “the right track”.
He said releasing the full three-month roadmap for lifting restrictions – and outlining the thresholds that must be met at each stage – should help maintain community support.
“It’s no longer seen as a capricious whim of ‘Dictator Dan’ but rather as an evidence-based position with clear directions around what is guiding each stage,” he said.
But Duckett said the evidence for some of the tougher measures – specifically the curfew in metropolitan Melbourne, which is currently in place from 8pm to 5am but will be reduced to 9pm to 5am from 13 September to 26 October – was lacking.
“The evidence for the curfew is very, very limited,” he said.
There has been an increase in mental health presentations to general practitioners since the second wave lockdown began in Melbourne. But Duckett said measures announced on Sunday, like allowing people who live alone to have one other person visit, would go some way towards combatting the loneliness and isolation of lockdown.
“[Increased mental health presentations] is concerning but you have to have a balance,” he said. “You can’t fully lift the restrictions because you are concerned about mental health, domestic violence, and drug and alcohol issues.”
The announcement on Sunday effectively doubles the initial six-week stage four lockdown period. Victoria’s chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, told reporters that setting the lockdown at six weeks back on 2 August was “in some respect guesswork” and it had become “pretty clear in the past couple of weeks” that stage four would have to be extended.
Prof Marylouise McLaws, an epidemiologist advising the World Health Organisation on its response to Covid-19, said she expected the Victorian government to balance the public health concerns with the ability of the community to continue to live under strict restrictions.
McLaws said she would like to see the average daily case numbers fall to single digits before tougher restrictions are lifted but said that may make it “hard for the community to continue to support the idea”.
“They are hurting emotionally and economically and you try to factor that in,” she told Guardian Australia.
Prof Sharon Lewin, the director of the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, said the roadmap “makes sense”.
“It is logical, it is very cautious, and it is evidence-driven, and I think each of those things is an important principle, and I actually am quite appreciative that we have a government that puts health first and that is what I think the plan does,” Lewin told ABC News.
She said she was “pretty optimistic” that daily case numbers would reduce in Victoria at the rate required to meet the threshold targets for each stage of the roadmap.
Duckett said extending the lockdown was good for the economy in the medium term, saying “the best thing for the economy is to try to control the spread of the virus and get it down to zero”.
The Australian Medical Association president, Dr Omar Khorshid, said extending the lockdown would help Victoria recover from the pandemic more quickly.
“The Victorian government has made necessary decisions based on sound medical advice, in the best interests of the nation’s health and the nation’s economy,” he said.
“Some business leaders campaigning against isolation measures are ignoring medical evidence that easing restrictions too soon risks a third wave surge in further infections.”
Khorshid said that extending the restrictions would allow the economy to have a sustainable longer-term recovery.
Paul Guerra, the chief executive of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said on Sunday that the roadmap was a “kick in the guts” that would see more businesses go to the wall.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Health experts welcome Melbourne lockdown extension but question curfew | Victoria