Futile? What Lockdown 2.0 Looks Like: Harsher Rules, Deeper Confusion, Unclear Benefit

DNYUZ:

Australian leader Daniel Andrews has institutted draconian lockdown measures amid a virus resurgence. Mr. Andrews … said in late July that 53 percent had not quarantined while waiting for their test results. He made face masks mandatory the next day, on July 22. Still, infections have continued to rise.

Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne, grappling with a spiraling coronavirus outbreak in a country that once thought it had the pandemic beat, has now imposed some of the toughest restrictions in the world.

But as officials cast about for ways to break the chain of infections, the city has become a confounding matrix of hefty fines for disobedience, minor exceptions for everything from romantic partners to home building, and endless versions of the question: So, wait, can I ____?

Restaurant owners are wondering about food delivery after an 8 p.m. curfew began on Sunday night. Teenagers are asking if their boyfriends and girlfriends count as essential partners. Can animal shelter volunteers walk dogs at night? Are house cleaners essential for those struggling with their mental health? Can the Covid-tested exercise outside?

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For some places, risk calculations can change overnight. In Hong Kong, officials banned daytime dining in restaurants last month, only to reverse themselves a day later after an outcry. Schools in some cities are opening and closing like screen doors in summer.

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The spread continued even after Melbourne started a so-called Stage 3 lockdown in early July — until recently, the highest level of restrictions — with no large gatherings and most people working from home. Officials grew increasingly angry as they discovered that the perception of a problem solved had produced complacency.

Traffic data showed people in Melbourne driving more in July than they had during the first Stage 3 lockdown, in March and April. Even worse, almost nine out of 10 people with Covid-19 had not been tested or isolated when they first felt sick, Mr. Andrews, the state’s top leader, said in late July. And 53 percent had not quarantined while waiting for their test results.

“That means people have felt unwell and just gone about their business,” Mr. Andrews said.

He made face masks mandatory the next day, on July 22.

Still, infections have continued to rise. They peaked at 753 new cases on July 30 and have hovered around 500 a day ever since, with the death toll in Victoria now standing at 147, after 11 deaths were recorded on Monday.

Those figures have paved the way for a Stage 4 lockdown — what officials are calling a “shock and awe” attack on the virus — that will last at least six weeks.

Overwhelming force, with precision, seems to be the goal. The chief modelers of the pandemic response in Australia have found that the virus can be suppressed only if more than 70 percent of the population abides by social distancing guidelines and other public health rules.

Mr. Andrews said the new restrictions would take 250,000 more people out of their routines, in the hopes of reaching the necessary threshold.

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