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It took just one Covid-19 case to pop the bubble of normalcy in Western Australia.
The state has been a coronavirus-free utopia for 10 months, with its 2.76 million residents watching from the sidelines as a global pandemic brought the world to its knees. While more than 21,000 people tested positive for coronavirus in the UK on Sunday, in Perth the news of a single case sent a jolt of reality reverberating across the city. Panic replaced complacency.
Even before a concerned-looking premier, Mark McGowan, and the WA health minister, Roger Cook, had the chance to front an emergency news conference shortly after midday on Sunday, the rumour mill was already in motion and a shopping frenzy had taken hold.
In some supermarkets, toilet paper, meat, milk and face masks were stripped from the shelves in minutes. Despite sweaty 37C temperatures, long and winding queues quickly formed at Covid testing clinics. By 1pm, it was revealed that a Covid-positive quarantine security guard had been roaming Perth for days and a five-day, hard lockdown was to begin at 6pm that evening.
For the first time in WA, masks would be mandatory. Parents counting the hours to send their kids back to school were suddenly faced with an extra week of holidays.
“At about midnight we received a positive Covid-19 test result,” McGowan said. “I know for many Western Australians this is going to come as a shock. Western Australians have done so well for so long, but this week it is absolutely crucial that we stay home, maintain physical distancing and personal hygiene, and get tested if you have symptoms.”
Perth’s first month-long lockdown, which began on 29 March last year, involved the closure of schools and businesses, but no mandatory mask-wearing.
This time around – and despite months of being advised to buy masks in readiness for a future outbreak – hundreds of people were caught short. The panic-buying was most evident in pharmacies and supermarkets.
“People were definitely frantic,” Stirling Lakes Pharmacy owner Matt Taborsky said. “People had been to multiple places and were pretty exhausted and worried knowing they needed a mask for the following day and they weren’t able to get one.
“The problem was, we didn’t have much stock. Mask sales had been steady, people weren’t prepared or didn’t have that expectation that we would even need to wear a mask.”
While stock was flying off the shelf at supermarkets, small business owners in other areas were forced to tear up bookings for the week. The director of the wellness centre Clearmind Studio, Craig Aird, said they were busy rescheduling appointments for five days, which without financial support would impact the business greatly.
“We have five staff, but we also have three massage therapists, nine yoga instructors, so it does have a knock-on effect,” Aird said. “We had three clients in the studios at the time and some of them came in on a regular day and when they came out, the world had turned upside down for them.”
Lawyer Emma Soactar fears her impending flight to see her mother in Queensland may also become a casualty of the virus. “We were quite excited because it looked like the Queensland borders were open and it would all be good, but now I’m doubtful.”
McGowan has urged the public to stay home behind closed doors with few exceptions, but for the city’s most vulnerable, who have no door to shut out the virus, the situation makes a complex situation even trickier.
Craig Hollywood, the chief executive of Short Backs and Sidewalks, which provides free haircuts to people experiencing homelessness, said the lockdown stopped his not-for-profit and other vital services from getting to those in need.
“Some people don’t have the ability to chuck on Netflix and stay home, and unfortunately those experiencing homelessness and those who are disadvantaged are the most vulnerable in these situations,” Hollywood said. “Our services have to immediately stop, and so when services are cut off then it cuts off a bit of a lifeline to people.
“We provide free haircuts, but it’s so much more than that; it’s an opportunity for someone to have a chat and a positive connection with someone else.”
On Monday, McGowan announced that genomic sequencing had confirmed that the security guard, who worked at the Four Points by Sheraton quarantine hotel, was indeed infected with the more transmissible UK mutant strain of Covid-19.
The man, now identified simply as “Case 903”, had three housemates and officials think he contracted the virus five days earlier before visiting 16 venues. An investigation is now underway to uncover how the man contracted the virus.
Perth is often the butt of jibes for copying Melbourne. Today, Perth residents felt first-hand what it’s like to await a premier’s morning Covid briefing with trepidation. Just as the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, fronted the media every day during Melbourne’s four-month lockdown, McGowan took to the airwaves at 11.30am local time to deliver the day’s Covid count.
Today, thankfully, the number was zero, and for now at least, Perth’s short, sharp lockdown is still on track.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Panic replaces complacency as Covid reality hits Western Australia hard | Western Australia