Victoria began the first day of its seven-day lockdown on Friday – the fourth time that Melbourne had been shut down since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.
The day was cold and cloudy, with ominously empty streets as people could only leave their homes for five reasons: food and supplies; authorised work; care and caregiving; exercise for a two-hour maximum; and to get vaccinated.
Following an anti-lockdown demonstration at Flinders St Station on Thursday night, Melbourne’s morning was obedient – empty – and it was not business as usual. The effects of lockdown were not unusual for the city of Melbourne, but this time, shops were shut without any form of JobKeeper assistance – and the 5km travel radius further accentuated problems.
The management of Market Europa, a continental supermarket with standard as well as Greek products, told Neos Kosmos that it did not note the frenzy of shoppers looking for essentials. There was a little bit more traffic but “nothing like previous lockdowns when they’ve come out crazy”, said the manager, adding that the Heatherton and Noble Park stores would remain open though the 5km radius would prevent customers from coming to their stores.
In the CBD, the situation is more difficult with flexible working arrangements having resulted in a loss in clientele. Melissa Glentis, who operates two cafes, told the ABC she expected to lose $50,000 during lockdown.
“That’s because we’re losing our biggest trade times on weekends and our functions,” she said. “Every time we go into lockdown, we lose stock that’s perishable and it’s unlikely we’ll be able to re-sell it.”
Eaton Mall in Oakleigh, usually littered with diners chatting away in Greek, was empty and grey. Greek restaurants packed away their outdoor settings but were open for takeaway services while fresh food stores remained empty, despite Friday being a usually busy day for them. One elderly woman told Neos Kosmos, “Θα το παλέψουμε κι αυτό.” (We’ll fight this too)
“It’s the five-kilometre shopping rule,” one Greek Australian shopkeeper told Neos Kosmos, adding that people were just following the rules.
A student-free day was offered to Victorian youth, by now pros at online learning after last year.
Kathryn Drougas, Director of Administration of St John’s College told Neos Kosmos that the school had been closed for a deep clean on Thursday, before the announcement for the state-wide lockdown.
“We had no positive cases but decided to do a deep clean given that there were cases in the northern suburbs,” she said.
“At St John’s we used online programs prior to COVID-19 and have streamlined those. We have implemented the SEQTA system, an online learning management program, where we upload work and assessments and use it anyway on a daily basis. And we use ellinopoula.gr to support Greek language learning. This will help students in their transition to home learning. Last year was a learning curve.”
Churches shut down again
Fr Evmenios Vasilopoulos, the Archdiocesan Vicar of Northcote told Neos Kosmos that the winter season is not usually chosen for weddings, however some of those which were set to take place on the weekend are being rushed for Thursday ahead of lockdown.
Fr Demos Nicolau of the Holy Church of Saint Paraskevi, Saint Barbara, Saint John the Merciful and Our Mother of Consolation, in St Albans, Melbourne told Neos Kosmos that lockdown would mean a return to online services for parishioners.
“There are no special services before the lockdown, but we will continue to do services as normal without the presence of the congregation. All services will be livestreamed from our personal Youtube and Facebook pages for our parishioners to follow,” he said.
“All baptisms and weddings are currently postponed until we find out any further information.”
Fr Nicholas Georgiou of the Presentation of Our Lady to the Temple in North Balwyn said at the time of writing that he hoped it would be a quick and easy return to normality. It was a wait-and-see situation to see how things will develop. We do not know what will happen but we will go through with it.”
Granted, it was just the fourth lockdown – and not exactly the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – but for many people in the community it may as well have been.
The Australian newspaper’s comment of the week went to Tori, who wrote: “Our Greek neighbour died of loneliness and sadness after missing church immeasurably. She would have had a funeral of thousands but none of us got to say goodbye to her and celebrate her incredible life, journeying from a small Greek village as a young girl to set up family here in Melbourne.”
Professor Vicky Kotsirilos AM told Neos Kosmos that the current variant of COVID-19 is “highly infectious and contagious primarily through aerosol spread”.
“The number of people with COVID-19 infections can escalate extremely rapidly within a few days if we do not take these extra precautions that are advised by the authorities,” she warned. “The current virus is much more infectious and aggressive compared with the usual COVID-19 infection and can cause respiratory symptoms within a day or so, compared with 5-6 days of the usual COVID-19 infection. We are all susceptible to the harms of this highly contagious virus but the vulnerable groups – the unwell, the elderly, people with chronic diseases and those who are immunocompromised are most at risk of becoming seriously unwell, and can result in lethal blood clotting disorder, pneumonia, lung failure and even death.”
Professor Arthur Christopoulos, Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science at Monash University, told Neos Kosmos, “As we have seen in other countries that also were doing very well like us in keeping community transmission under control, this can turn very bad very quickly – we are still in the middle of a raging global pandemic.”
He said “latest Melbourne outbreak is a perfect example of why people should be vaccinating as soon as possible”.
World-renowned researcher and immunologist Vasso Apostolopoulos, Pro Vice-Chancellor at Victoria University, said that “people are hesitant to get vaccinated because of the reported side effects and it would be helpful if the government was open to other vaccines”, pointing to other vaccines around the world, such as Sinovac, Sinopharm, Sputnik, already being rolled out successfully and made differently.
“Australia should be open to them,” she said.
“There are at least 200 vaccines developed around the world which haven’t been tested on humans due to the lack of funding, which are probably even better than the ones we have available with no side effects of which 10-15 are made in Australia,” she said, including one made at her own Victoria University.
Professor Christopoulos said “the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks, especially when COVID is circulating in the community”.