Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, emerged from one of the world’s longest and most severe lockdowns on Wednesday, a move that has left the city both traumatised and joyous as it brought the second wave of coronavirus to a halt.
It took a whopping 112 days but Melbourne and the surrounding region of Victoria recorded no new infections and no new deaths on Monday, and on Tuesday at 11.59pm local time entered step three and moved from a “stay home” order to “stay safe” (for comparison, the strictest part of the UK lockdown lasted 70 days). On Wednesday 16,200 shops along with 5,800 cafes and restaurants and 1,000 beauty salons opened for the first time in months.
Previously, the city’s five million residents were only allowed to leave the house for four main reasons: shopping for food and essential items; care and caregiving; daily exercise or recreation; and work, after cases surged to more than 700 a day in July. Melburnians also had a nighttime curfew and a ban on travelling more than 5km (3.1 miles) from their home.
The city’s five million residents were only allowed to leave the house for four main reasons: shopping for food and essential items; care and caregiving; daily exercise or recreation; and work.
“It felt really surreal to be sitting in a cafe drinking a coffee after so many months of lockdown,” says British expat Sophie, 27, who lives in the northeastern suburbs of Melbourne with her partner Nick. “Coffee is such a big part of Melbourne, it’s such a simple pleasure that I have missed greatly. You could just feel the energy of everyone there, just pure happiness.”
Sophie, who works as a corporate partnership manager and has been working from home for eight months, tells Refinery29 that watching the daily news conferences became part of her routine as she waited in anticipation for good news to arrive. “After a day of no recorded cases, Victoria’s premier Daniel Andrews announced the ease in restrictions. Watching him give the updates we had all been waiting for was incredibly emotional. It felt like instant relief, after months of lockdown, the thought of a COVID-safe summer was incredible.”
On her first day of freedom, Sophie said she got a takeaway coffee from her local cafe and took in her surroundings, then she spent the afternoon in her garden with her partner before heading out shopping and to the salon. “I got my hair cut finally after eight months. It felt incredible. You forget how something so normal can make you feel great. I felt human again, such a confidence boost.”
It felt really surreal to be sitting in a cafe drinking coffee after so many months of lockdown.
Sophie, 27, melbourne
While she has been enjoying the outside world, she notes that it still “doesn’t feel real yet” because of how long it has been. “We’ve had 15 weeks of hard lockdown, which meant 8pm until 5am curfews, 5km radius limits (in which you faced fines if you were out of that limit unless you could provide it was for the four approved reasons to leave home), and from March we needed a work permit if we had to work from the office.
“There are still police checks around Melbourne to check those going into regional Victoria, nothing has been open with only deliveries available and during the first four weeks of hard lockdown, single people didn’t have bubbles and just before lockdown was lifted, we could only meet with two people from other households, but for only two hours.”
Sophie says the lockdown has been incredibly hard on her. “It was a struggle, feeling foggy, struggling to concentrate, struggling to form full sentences. I would get unexpectedly tearful at the smallest things — I literally cried watching the Eurovision film! I think it was because it was all-consuming, the only thing we would talk about, think about and it definitely gave me too much time to overthink things.
“But I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a secure job that offers mental health services, I own a home and I have a supportive partner. We helped each other get through this. But it has been the longest I’ve not seen my closest friend, which has been tough. To say it was stressful is an understatement but seeing the positive results of the lockdown helped.”
So what’s next? Visiting the many restaurants Melbourne has to offer. “A group of us are going to our local Sicilian restaurant Montibello next Friday and I am beyond excited. I am really looking forward to visiting South Melbourne Market again, you can grab a coffee and a fresh pastry and explore the markets. There are countless others that I can’t wait to experience again — I think we will be dining out for quite a while.”
She is also excited to see some new additions to her friendship group. “On Wednesday I went for a walk and a coffee with a close friend that had her first child in lockdown. It was the first time I got to meet her gorgeous son.” Sophie and her partner Nick are also visiting their nieces and nephews at the weekend. She’s still sad that she can’t travel to the UK to visit her family but is excited to see her friends.
“It feels like Christmas has come early,” Sophie adds. “It has that same buzz of anticipation. My friends are my second family and the thought of seeing them all over the next few weeks is really emotional and exciting.
It feels like Christmas has come early. It has that same buzz of anticipation. My friends are my second family and the thought of seeing them all over the next few weeks is emotional and exciting.
Sophie, 27, melbourne
While the lockdown has been traumatising, Sophie says it made her appreciate the city more. “It’s made the simple things in life so much more important, just being able to see friends and family, leaving my home for any reason (not just the four approved reasons) and being able to enjoy a meal with friends in a restaurant is really wonderful.
“I hope that we continue to appreciate our green spaces once things start to return to ‘normal’.
“Melbourne is such a unique and vibrant place. It stole my heart the first moment I came here, and I desperately miss the food, events, art and people — there is just something about being in Melbourne on a summer’s night with so much life happening around you.”
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