Notes from the Lockdowns: Phase 4 of Coronavirus Roadmap

Pemberton, Western Australia
Pemberton, Western Australia

I went to the gym for the first time yesterday after many months of relying on home exercises and running outdoors. When it rains sideways during the cold months, access to a gym is somehow a blessing, and it’s great to observe that people are careful about maintaining enough space amongst themselves and are cleaning equipment after each use.

Phase 4 of the state’s Coronavirus roadmap started on 27 June. At this phase, residents and businesses in Western Australia enjoy fewer restrictions on movements and social gatherings during the pandemic :

  • all existing gathering limits and the 100/300 rule removed
  • gathering limits only determined by WA’s reduced 2 square metre rule
  • the 2 square metre rule will only include staff at venues that hold more than 500 patrons
  • removal of seated service requirements at food businesses and licensed premises
  • no requirement to maintain patron register at food businesses and licensed premises
  • alcohol can be served as part of unseated service arrangements
  • all events permitted except for large scale, multi-stage music festivals
  • unseated performances permitted at venues such as concert halls, live music venues, bars, pubs and nightclubs
  • gyms operating unstaffed, but regular cleaning must be maintained
  • the casino gaming floor reopening under agreed temporary restrictions.

When restrictions were further eased by the state government, we were already on a much awaited holiday down in Pemberton, some 5 hours’ drive south of Perth. On a side note, this is one place I wish I could bring loved ones and friends to. Nothing beats a WA road trip!

We had initially planned a two-week vacation in Malaysia for March, but when it became obvious that the infections weren’t slowing, we had the inkling that we might have to cancel our travel plans. Then, when the Federal government advised Australian citizens and permanent residents to forego international travel, as well as for those abroad to make their way back to the country as soon as possible, we knew that we had to cancel all bookings. More than that, we knew that closing off borders and a full lockdown were just around the corner.

We recovered hotel fees, but Singapore Airlines only gave us travel vouchers that we could use within 24 months, assuming the pandemic was gone by next year.

Since March, people in WA have been living in a country within a country, a state closed off within an island country itself. However, it is difficult to find fault in the strategy adopted by both Federal (i.e. national) and State governments in combatting the spread of Covid-19, particularly in a state that has among the highest proportion of vulnerable populations anywhere; it is home to a culture that is at least 60,000 years old after all and one whose genes is known to be regressive. Geography has always worked in Australia’s favour in times of global crisis.

The strategy also worked: on lockdown for more than 8 weeks, West Australians managed to keep the infections at bay and avoided the fiascos that plagued the eastern states, such as the Ruby Princess snafu and the resurgence of Covid infections in Melbourne. We may have appeared to be overly cautious for keeping non-residents away, but we would not have been enjoying more freedoms and further economic activities if we hadn’t made those decisions. It wasn’t easy for everyone, but it was necessary.

So far during Phase 4, we have been able to travel, shop, ride public transport that now runs on regular schedules, go to cafes and restaurants, welcome guests to our homes, and for many, return to offices. What also made the difference apart from strict implementation of social distancing and closing off borders is the mindset that people have around the pandemic: one would hardly find anyone who thought that Covid-19 wasn’t real, that it was unnecessary to socially distance or observe sanitary practices. In this country of 26 million and a state of less than 3 million, triple-digit infections means shutting down entire suburbs and cities and prompting testing and contact tracing blitz.

I am expecting to be back at the office by the last week of August in time for a quality management audit which I have been working on for the past 12 months. However, even then, I do not expect to spend all of my working hours in a confined space with 30 or so other people, as much as I miss my old routine.