Australia’s COVID-19 Second Wave Deepens in Melbourne

City’s lockdown drags on . . . 

On Wednesday, Australia reported over 460 new cases of COVID-19, the country’s highest single-day increase to date. The last seven days have seen nearly 2,400 new cases, on par with the worst week of the novel coronavirus’ first wave in late March. The majority of new cases are in Melbourne, the country’s second-largest city and the epicentre of Down Under’s second wave. A lockdown has been in place since July 8, and masks are now mandatory for everyone outside their residence. While Friday’s new cases numbered ‘only’ 300, five out of six of them could not immediately be traced to a known exposure.

Why the second wave?

In early June, Australia boasted single digits of new COVID-19 infections and appeared to be a COVID-19 eradication success story. But on June 19, officials announced seven new cases linked to security guards at a Melbourne hotel that housed international arrivals as part of the country’s mandatory 14-day quarantine. It has been revealed that private firms employed on short notice to administer security at the quarantine hotels sub-contracted much of the work, providing little to no training to guards. Firms did not provide hand sanitizers, and infections quickly spread. Army personnel have been deployed in response to provide security at quarantine hotels, assist police forces at state border checkpoints, and to undertake in-person contact tracing.

Of re-opening and containment . . .

The Black Lives Matter march planned for this coming Tuesday in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, has become a major touchstone for controversy amid fears of virus spread. As Canadian provinces and municipalities gradually re-open and allow increasing numbers of people at outdoor gatherings, the Melbourne experience can be instructive as an example of pitfalls that must be avoided. Failure to do so could plunge us back into another hard quarantine, the social and economic consequences of which could be devastating.