A Melbourne supermarket stripped of supplies. Photo: Christopher Corneschi, Wikicommons

From today masks are mandatory in public in Melbourne and the adjacent Mitchell Shire as the city grapples with hundreds more Covid-19 cases every day. How did things get so bad there? 

It’s been called a “wicked enemy” – and it’s one that Melbourne and the neighbouring area of Mitchell Shire is losing to.

Yesterday saw a daily record of 484 new Covid-19 cases in Victoria. From today masks are mandatory in public in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire. They are in lockdown again, a situation which has sent many residents spiralling into depression.

For a while, the two regions with the same population as New Zealand were treading a parallel path to us when it came to battling the virus. That was until about four weeks ago.

So what were the factors that saw us head in such different directions?

Epidemiologist Professor John Mathews from the University of Melbourne says had Victoria gone the extra step and into level four lockdown “we may have been able to go for elimination and be in the same fortunate situation as New Zealand,” he says.

“For the time being we’ve missed the bus.”

A new independent inquiry is looking into reported failures in the system, including a so-called quarantine hotel botch-up where security guards were socialising with infected residents, then taking the virus home; quarantined people were escaping; and a big Black Lives Matter march early on has also copped some blame.

Mathews says a lot of the public felt that if the government was going to allow 10,000 people to come together in a rally, why bother with social distancing at all?

“(It was) a very mixed message the public got when that happened,” he says. “The timing of that was quite unfortunate.”

New Zealander Melina Schamroth has been living in lockdown for five months, having caught pneumonia at the start of the pandemic and been confined to her home since the beginning of March.

“For me every day is now what they refer to as ‘Blursday’ because I really wouldn’t know,” she tells Sharon Brettkelly on The Detail today.

“What I have noticed is that a lot of people are really, really struggling with the second round of (lockdown). They had their first taste of freedom, I guess, and having that taken away from them has been a really big struggle for a lot of them. A lot of people are feeling really despondent, their businesses are being impacted, and there’s kind of no end date. Even though they’ve said six weeks for this level of restriction they could be going harder at any minute.”

Not everyone is on the same page when it comes to fighting the pandemic, with Schamroth saying many are carrying on like nothing has changed.

“Unfortunately there’s a lot of people who may not feel the rules necessarily apply to them,” she says. “There’s a lot of push back from people around what they call basic human rights, which is a really interesting scenario when you’re in the middle of a pandemic.

“We’ve had another rush on supplies here …. Now that they’ve announced masks (are mandatory) there’ve been queues and queues of people trying to buy masks … they’re being stripped from stores. It’s becoming very, very hard to just get some of the basics.”

Schamroth is the founder of m.a.d.woman, an organisation that helps support the needy.

“I’ve gone from somebody who was incredibly busy in my life – I used to go to the supermarket maybe four or five times a week; I was running a charity; I used to travel a lot, speaking gigs across Australia – to a person who’s literally stuck indoors.”

In our podcast she talks about how she’s seen events unfold from her (inside) point of view.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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