Victorians must all share the lockdown load

Victorians in 10 postcodes across Melbourne’s north and west have been ordered back into lockdown. But regaining control of COVID-19 remains the responsibility of all Victorians.

The virus is spreading in other parts of Melbourne, beyond the 10 ‘hotspots’. These new cases are coming from transmission in the community rather than from overseas arrivals. Victoria has more cases of community transmission now than it did in the initial peak of the virus in March.

Following the early success in flattening the curve, Victorians have mostly – but not entirely – returned to normal patterns of life, as the chart below shows. They’re going back to their workplaces and out to the shops. Far fewer of them, however, are catching the train or hopping on a tram: public transport use remains at about half of what it was in January.

But for the 300,000 people living in the 10 hotspots, life has gone back on hold. Movement in and out of the lockdown zones will be partially controlled by police checkpoints. But suburbs are porous. And people in those suburbs are still allowed to leave the house, for essential shopping, care, exercise and – importantly – work.

So people will continue to make trips to their workplaces outside the lockdown areas. The chart below shows the job locations of the 130,000 workers who live in hotspot areas. Tens of thousands work in neighbouring suburbs. More than 10,000 work in the CBD, and thousands more work in Southbank, Docklands, and Parkville.

Strict social distancing practices in workplaces is therefore crucial if Victoria is to again drive cases down. All Victorians should work from home if they can. If they can’t, they should spend as little time as possible at their workplace.

Employers must do their bit. Businesses must ensure staff can avoid shared spaces and high-risk areas. Handshakes should be a thing of the past. Workplaces should be thoroughly cleaned regularly.

Locking down suburbs that are the source of rapid COVID-19 transmission is sensible. But these lockdowns don’t absolve other Victorians from their social distancing responsibilities. The virus still lurks. There are hundreds of active cases in the state, many of them outside the hotspots.

Grattan Institute modelling has shown that it is people’s behaviour when they are out in the community that will determine Victoria’s and Australia’s COVID-19 future. If people drop their guard while the virus is still around, it will spread with rapid and devastating effect.

Anyone who could come into contact with the virus bares responsibility for containing it. Right now, that means all Victorians.

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