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Australia’s ‘extreme’ 2nd lockdown curbed coronavirus — here’s what it took

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WATCH: Australia's COVID-19 hotspot reports lowest daily rise in cases since June.

As Canada’s coronavirus cases continue to climb, many health experts are warning the public that a second lockdown may be around the corner.

And as Canadians prepare for a potential fall or winter shutdown, experts argue we may want to look at Australia’s strict second lockdown measures in order to figure out how to tackle spiking coronavirus cases.

Read more: Quebec at beginning of second coronavirus wave as cases jump, top doctor warns

“Extreme lockdowns work, no question about it,” said Timothy Sly, an epidemiologist with Ryerson University’s school of public health. “This is what China did, what Melbourne did, and it worked. Partial lockdowns just prolong the agony.”

At the end of June, Australia saw a renewed surge in COVID-19 cases, mainly in the state of Victoria, which is home to the nation’s second-largest city, Melbourne.

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Melbourne, home to five million people, has been under a strict second lockdown since July.

Some of the measures include:

  • You cannot leave your home unless it’s for exercising, caregiving, working or buying essential supplies. If you do leave, you must stay within 5 km of home
  • Masks have to be worn outside
  • Schools changed to remote learning
  • Childcare centres are closed
  • You cannot have visitors or go to another person’s house unless it is for the purpose of giving or receiving care
  • You can meet one other person outdoors for a maximum of two hours
  • There is a curfew between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. (previously 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.) The onset of the curfew was adjusted to one hour later as spring approaches in the southern hemisphere and daylight hours will begin getting longer.
  • There is a ban on weddings
  • Restaurants and cafes will only be open for takeaway and delivery
  • General retail, gyms, hair salons and bars are closed

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Residents in Melbourne are also not allowed to leave the city without a valid reason. The government said people who choose to cross the border into another region could be fined or jailed up to six months.

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Read more: Coronavirus prevention crushed Australia’s flu season. Can Canada expect the same?

Victoria’s lockdown measures were expected to be implemented over six weeks, but at the beginning of September, the government announced it was extending them until the end of the month.

Melbourne’s COVID-19 cases fell

Australia reported on Monday its smallest daily increase in new coronavirus infections in more than three months, especially in the nation’s virus hotspot, Victoria.

On Monday, Victoria recorded 11 new coronavirus cases, down from over 670 at the height of the most recent outbreak last month. The 11 new infections are Victoria’s smallest daily jump since June 16.

“This light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer every day,” Nick Coatsworth, the chief deputy medical officer, told reporters on Monday.

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Australia’s second-largest city goes back into lockdown

Victoria’s experience shows that targeted lockdowns are effective in containing the coronavirus, Sly said.

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“You really have to be tough with this virus. It’s like ripping off a bandaid,” he said, adding that although extreme lockdowns can be difficult, they are a way to bring the coronavirus number close to zero.

Of course, closing down a country or region for an extended period of time has its consequences.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics released on Sept. 2 showed the country’s economy shrank seven per cent in the three months.

READ MORE: Australia enters recession, posts worst economic crash since 1930s

Australia’s federal government has blamed the lockdown in Victoria for dragging the country deeper into its first recession in nearly 30 years, while other states have largely reopened their economies.

When Victoria announced its extended September lockdown, Prime Minister Scott Morrison called it “crushing news,” saying it will drive the country further into a recession.

What can Canada learn?

Currently, Ontario and Quebec have the highest COVID-19 numbers across Canada. As of Tuesday morning, Ontario has reported 47,274 coronavirus cases and 2,829 deaths. Quebec has reported 68,128 cases and 5,804 deaths.

Sly argued implementing a three to four-week lockdown, in a place like Ontario, would be an effective way to lower coronavirus rates.

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“You are keeping people away from each other for a period of time. It would be a big price to pay, but it would be [nearly] gone,” he said.

Sly said he’s worried about coronavirus cases spiking in the winter months as people head indoors and “congregate in close quarters.” Canada should start preparing for a second lockdown now instead of waiting around, he said.

Read more: Canada’s coronavirus cases are surging, but experts reject it’s a ‘second wave’

“It’s like where we were back in February … when we said, ‘Look at what’s happening over there in that part of the world; it probably won’t happen to us.’ And instead of preparing, we sat back and let it arrive.”

If health officials act now and impose stricter restrictions, he said, Canada could curtail a possible second wave.

Although lockdowns can be effective, Zahid Butt, a University of Waterloo professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems, argued the economic impacts may not be worth the cost.

“Are we able to do that here in Canada? There are huge economic issues if you close everything. If you close off Ontario, how will this impact the country?” he asked.

“A regional approach to lockdowns may work. For example, if we have a partial lockdown in Toronto city instead of closing the whole province of Ontario,” Butt said.

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Is Canada in a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic? A doctor answers our questions

Butt acknowledged that extreme lockdowns can be effective in controlling COVID-19 but once the restrictions are lifted, numbers could spike anyway.

He said other forms of restrictions may just be as effective, such as keeping the border closed, wearing masks, hand washing and keeping a safe distance from people.