There has been one new locally acquired case of coronavirus reported on the first day of Victoria’s five-day lockdown to halt the spread of the highly infectious UK variant.
The outbreak linked to the Melbourne Airport Holiday Inn currently stands at 13 cases, but it is not yet clear if the new case is part of that cluster.
On Friday night the government announced a pause on all international passenger flights, excluding those already in transit, while there was also bizarre scenes at the Australian Open where tennis crowds were forced to leave midway through matches when the lockdown came into effect at midnight.
Melbourne-based psychologist Dervla Loughnane said there would be a toll on mental health, with the number of calls for help steadily rising over the past few days.
“It’s your worst fears realised,” Dr Loughnane said. “What if we go back into a long, long lockdown? What will this mean, for work? What will this mean for kids? There’s this incredible build-up of anxiety.”
A lot of the anxiety people will be experiencing stems from the fact the last time Victorians went into lockdown, they were told it would only be six weeks but it stretched into months, Dr Loughnane siad.
Melbourne’s second lockdown kicked off on July 9, and did not end until late October.
Even once the state emerged from the 15-week strict lockdown, there were limits on in-home gatherings and face masks had to be worn outside.
“It’s very much like being told: ‘Start running a race and I’ll tell you when to stop, you have to keep going until then’.”
“There’s a distrust. People question if it will really only be five days, because that’s not what happened last time.”
Snap lockdowns have worked in other places around the globe, including New Zealand and, more recently, South Australia.
The state’s chief medical officer Brett Sutton said he believed it would work
“In the grand scheme of things, if this is the sacrifice that we have to make to be free of community transmission again, then we really need to be making this choice and I do fully expect that we’ll get on top of it,” Professor Sutton said.
Even though the five-day lockdown is likely enough to get on top of it, just the word ‘lockdown’ can cause anxiety and fear for people, said Dr Loughnane.
All we have to do is mention lockdown and there’s this trauma trigger response,” said Dr Loughnane.
When asked if there would be additional mental health support offered to Victorians, Premier Daniel Andrews said his government was working with services to ensure everyone who needs help over the next five days receives it.
“We’re all committed to making sure that everybody who needs support, whether it’s experiencing mental illness, anxiety, depression … we are there for every single one of those people,” Mr Andrews said.
Data released three weeks ago by the Victorian coroner showed there was no increase in suicides in the state in 2020.
According to the statistics, 698 Victorians took their lives in 2020, which was 20 fewer than the previous year.
Mental health hotlines saw a huge spike, with Beyond Blue experiencing a 42 per cent increase in calls, those calls coincidingcoincided with COVID-19 outbreaks in the community.
The main reason people rang was anxiety, but also for help with loneliness, exhaustion and frustration.
Tips to get you through
To help each other and bolster their own mental health, Victorians need to eat well, sleep well, and get out for their two hours of exercise, Dr Loughnane said.
“Remain connected with people through phone or Zoom, it’s about doing those basic things that we all know help,” she said.
Last year Australians hit the bottle with gusto during the pandemic, drinking 26.7 per cent more booze than the year before.
Dr Loughnane said it was important to try and avoid drinking alcohol as a coping mechanism.
It’s easier to reach for something alcoholic in the fridge than it is your running shoes,” she said.
Look after yourself, stay away from the booze and remember how resilient you are, Dr Loughnane said.
“Victorians are very resilient,” she said. “Through everything they went through, they hung on. They had no idea where the goalposts were, and they got through it.”