The end of lockdown conditions in most of regional Victoria is bitter sweet news for Melburnians still enduring their sixth lockdown. The city is now well past a combined 200 days of life with stay-at-home orders since the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year.
Fingers crossed Melburnians will experience some easing of restrictions come 23 September when initial vaccination targets are due to be met.
By then Melbourne will have racked up a total of 234 days of lockdown. While this must feel like it will be some kind of world record, a quick internet search reveals that it will be close, but not quite.
Spare a thought for the residents of Argentina’s capital city, Buenos Aires, who have lived through “home isolation” restrictions for 243 days – from 19 March 2020 – 8 November 2020 and then again from 21 – 31 May 2021.
While a difference of just nine days won’t seem much, the experiences of people in Buenos Aires and other locked down cities around the world, should remind us that contrary to how we might be feeling, we have been lucky.
Despite all the hardship, Melburnians have benefited from going through lockdown in one of the world’s most liveable cities.
Melbourne has a diverse range of green public open spaces, and it’s a fair bet that if you hadn’t been to your local park before lockdown, you have now.
Some four out of five Melburnians live within 400 metres of a green space, and while this number is low compared to some of Australia’s other capital cities, Melbourne also has the most equitable distribution of green space.
This means that most people in our city have access to a park, regardless of which neighbourhood they live in.
Experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic have made many of us realise how important public green spaces are for our physical and mental health and wellbeing.
The lockdowns have unavoidably changed the way we live. We are seeing a resurgence of hyper-localism as residents spend more time shopping in and around their neighbourhoods. With work from home orders and strict travel restrictions, people are turning to local parks and street walking as a way to unwind.
It’s well known that access to green spaces can enable greater social cohesion and human-nature connections. While seemingly small, these connections can make a difference for those struggling with feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Increased demand for mental health services over the course of this pandemic has seen the Victorian Government invest a record $A3.8 billion funding for mental health and wellbeing in the 2021-2022 State Budget.
And none too soon.
Lifeline, a national charity that provides 24-hour crisis support, recorded its busiest day ever; servicing 3,345 calls on 3 August 2021 alone, beating a previous record set on Good Friday in 2020 – 3197 calls in one day. While this is a saddening statistic, it does show that more people are able to access the services they need.
Access to excellent healthcare services is a necessary and defining feature for a just and liveable city.
A 2016 study found that more than 75 per cent of Melbourne residents have high or very high access to the health infrastructure. Melbourne remains among the top 10 most liveable cities, with one of the strongest healthcare systems, in the world.
When compared to the COVID-19 impacts experienced by other cities – we’re in a very fortunate situation.
This is not to undermine the sacrifices and hardship of Melburnians’ pandemic experience – characterised by an endless loop of new restrictions, general uncertainty, and home-job haircuts.
But one of the most inspiring – and perhaps surprising – aspects of this lived experience has been the unyielding display of resilience and compassion.
From something as small as a quick check-in over the supermarket register, to a front-yard display of home-made scarecrows for the kids learning from home, to the ongoing support for relief efforts – locally and overseas.
Compassion has become a hallmark for this lockdown experience.
Melburnians have surpassed the 200 day lockdown milestone, and while the journey isn’t over yet, we can be fortified with the knowledge that we have much to be grateful for. Not least, that we’re still in this together.
But beyond lockdown, this experience should remind all of us of the importance of keeping our city above all things, liveable.
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