As much as no-one would ever want to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine with no ability to venture outside, or months under strict lockdowns, it is these severe preventative restrictions that have allowed countries including Australia to eventually suppress the spread of the COVID-19 virus and pandemic.
In particular, Melbourne, Victoria endured some of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world in late 2020. And just weeks before Christmas 2020, Sydney’s Northern Beaches faced (and continue to face) strict restrictions and lockdown measures in order to reduce the spread of a surge in cases originating from an Avalon cluster.
When the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on the 30th January 2020, (Kantis et al 2020) strict lockdowns weren’t the immediate response. However, it didn’t take long before world leaders began to make unprecedented decisions to prevent the spread of the virus including closing international borders, restricting all non-essential internal travel, enforcing social-distancing measures, and mandatory quarantining of travelers (BBC News 2020).
In order to appreciate how strict lockdowns and quarantining was and continues to be necessary in aiding the prevention of the spread of the COVID-19 virus, its important to understand how the virus is spread.
The virus can spread from person to person through:
close contact with an infectious person (including in the 48 hours before they had symptoms)
contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze
touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that have droplets from an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face (Australian Government Department of Health 2020).
It is also known that symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus, meaning that infected people can spread the virus while not even knowing they are infected (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2020). This fact combined with the fact that there is no known immunity within our community means that coronavirus has the ability to spread widely and quickly.
Therefore, Quarantine was and is applied to people who are well but may have been in contact with someone with COVID-19, have returned from overseas, or are entering a state or territory that has a required a quarantine period, requiring them to isolate from other people for 14 days in order to prevent the spread of the virus (Department of Health 2020).
Lockdowns of varying levels were also enforced across Australia in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. By closing businesses, restricting numbers of people at large social gatherings, sending schooling online, limiting visits between family members, preventing visits to nursing homes, canceling sporting events, enforcing strict social-distancing measures, and almost all public life in Melbourne ceasing to exist for 111 days of lockdown (among many other restrictions), people had very limited exposure to each other, thus limiting the ability for the COVID-19 virus to spread amongst the community.
Prior to Sydney’s recent Northern Beaches outbreak, Australia had been referred to as a ‘pandemic success story’ as towards the end of 2020, it was close to eliminating community transmission of COVID-19 while many other counties were seeing infections surge (Odysseus 2020). This is said to be largely due to our leaders urging Australians to take the pandemic seriously from very early on, and Australians’ willingness to give up civil liberties that had never been lost before (Odysseus 2020).
While many lives have sadly been lost and there will of course be many ongoing and long-lasting effects of the pandemic mentally, emotionally and financially, Australians’ respect for and compliance with (albeit some errors) quarantining, lockdowns and unprecedented social restrictions has allowed us to largely gain control over the spread of Covid-19 as many countries around the world continue to struggle to gain control over the virus.
Australian Government Department of Health. Quarantine for Coronavirus, 2020. https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/how-to-protect-yourself-and-others-from-coronavirus-covid-19/quarantine-for-coronavirus-covid-19 (accessed December 2020).
BBC NEWS. Coronavirus: The world in lockdown in maps and charts, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-52103747 (accessed December 2020).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of Coronavirus, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html (accessed December 2020).
Kantis C, Kiernan, S, Socrates Bardi J. Think Global Health. UPDATED: Timeline of the Coronavirus. A frequently updated tracker of emerging developments from the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, 2020. https://www.thinkglobalhealth.org/article/updated-timeline-coronavirus (accessed Oct 2020).
Odysseus Patrick, A. Washington Post. Australia has almost eliminated the coronavirus — by putting faith in science. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/australia-coronavirus-cases-melbourne-lockdown/2020/11/05/96c198b2-1cb7-11eb-ad53-4c1fda49907d_story.html (accessed December 2020).
Odysseus Patrick, A. Washington Post. The secret to Australia’s success in beating the coronavirus? Being an island helps, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/coronavirus-australia-borders-quarantine/2020/10/01/29e53608-0223-11eb-b92e-029676f9ebec_story.html (accessed December 2020).