explainer

Closed schools and mandatory isolation: What a Stage 3 COVID-19 shutdown could look like.

On Tuesday, the Australian Government announced the second phase of shutdown measures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The measures, which come into effect from midnight tonight, will see additional non-essential services closed, including beauticians, food courts, libraries, galleries, and swimming pools, among others.

That’s on top of the previous measures announced over the weekend, which ordered the closure of businesses including restaurants, bars, pubs, clubs, nightclubs, gyms and indoor sporting venues, cinemas and entertainment venues, and places of worship.

(See our previous article ‘Stage two restrictions: Exactly what is and isn’t shutting down from midnight Wednesday’ for full details.)

These steps are part of what Prime Minister Scott Morrison is describing as his Government’s staged, “scalable” approach to the crisis.

So, what could the next step look like?

Of course, we can’t predict exactly what our leaders will choose to do next. But for a glimpse at what’s likely, let’s take a look at a couple of examples from countries that are a step or two ahead of us: the UK and New Zealand.

UK: lockdown.

As far as the epidemic curve goes — that’s a chart used to plot new cases over time — Australia is on the same trajectory as the UK, but about two weeks behind. (It currently has 6,654 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 335 deaths.)

So, its recent lockdown measures are a reasonable indication of what Australian life could look like soon.

In an address to the nation on Monday evening, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK was being placed into lockdown for at least three weeks.

That means people can only leave their homes for “very limited purposes”, public gatherings of more than two people (other than members of a single household) are banned, and non-essential shops are closed.

There are only four reasons Brits are now allowed to venture out:

  • To shop for basic necessities, which should be done “as infrequently as possible”.
  • Once-daily exercise, such as a run, walk, or cycle. This includes dog walking, and can only be done alone or with members of your household.
  • To seek medical care or providing care/assistance to a vulnerable person. This includes children (younger than 18) in a shared custody arrangement visiting both parents.
  • To travel to and from work, “but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home”.

“That’s all,” Prime Minister Johnson said. “These are the only reasons you should leave your home.

“You should not be meeting friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say ‘No.’ You should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home.”

Police have the power to enforce these rules and issue fines for non-compliance.

Schools in the UK are also closed to all but vulnerable children and the children of essential workers (such as medical staff) who have no alternative arrangements.

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New Zealand: lockdown.

New Zealand has recorded 205 cases of COVID-19 and no deaths. But the Government is taking a hard and fast approach to dealing with the local outbreak.

From midnight tonight (Wednesday), New Zealand will be under ‘Alert Level 4’, which means it will go into lockdown for a minimum of four weeks.

Only essential business and services including supermarkets and pharmacies will remain open, and restaurants and cafes must stop all operations, including takeaway. Only Meals on Wheels and whole-food delivery (think subscription food boxes) will be allowed to continue.

New Zealand residents must also self-isolate in their homes. The only reasons they can leave include going to the supermarket or pharmacy, seeking medical care, doing work for an essential business, or outdoor activities like gardening or exercising.

As is the case in the UK, people must only leave home alone or with other members of their household, and then they must remain at least two metres away from anyone else.

All schools and Early Childhood Education Centres are also closed.

Listen: Three women in lockdown around the world share what life is like. Post continues below.

This morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also declared a state of emergency. This means authorities will have extra powers to help achieve a swift response to the crisis. This could include, for example, closing roads or stopping people from doing certain activities.

Prime Minister Ardern said police and military will work together if necessary.

“If people do not follow the message here today, then the police will remind people of their obligations,” she said. “They have the ability to escalate if required. They can arrest if needed, they can detain if needed. But these are tools of last resort.”

Will Australia go into lockdown?

It remains to be seen.

The National Cabinet — a body of state and federal leaders — is meeting several times a week to coordinate the response to the pandemic, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has so far been reluctant to use the ‘L’ word.

However, Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), which advises the National Cabinet on how to respond to the pandemic, said lockdown would be the next logical phase, including the closure of schools to all but the children of essential service providers.

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“The next step, if required, is likely to be a carefully considered closure of all activity except essential industries and services,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.

“All states and territories are in agreement with the above position, except Victoria, who expressed the desire for even stronger measures at this time.”

As for when, the AHPPC said earlier in the week that the situation should be reviewed daily, but that community lockdown should occur when there is strong evidence of community transmission. Currently, the vast majority of Australian COVID-19 cases stem from people who have recently travelled from overseas.

The AHPPC also called for phone tracking measures, such as those employed in Singapore and Hong Kong to monitor the location of people ordered into isolation, such as returned travellers and people with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday morning, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said her state is planning to implement such technology in the near future, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

The rest is speculation.

All the waiting and uncertainty is difficult. But for now, it’s a matter of complying with current regulations, being adaptable and knowing that whatever measures come next bring us a step closer to an end to this crisis.

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The Australian Government Department of Health advises that the only people who will be tested for COVID-19 are those with symptoms who have either returned from overseas in the past 14 days or been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the past 14 days.

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

The current situation around COVID-19 might be making you feel scared or uncertain. It’s okay to feel this way, but it’s also important to learn how to manage feelings of anxiety during this time. To download the free PDF: Anxiety & Coronavirus – How to Manage Feelings of Anxiety click here.

Feature image: Getty.

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