Lockdown easing but Aussies aren't rushing to reunite

After almost two months in virtual lockdown due to COVID-19, you might think Australians would be rushing to reunite as distancing restrictions are eased in some areas. But that’s not the case.

Thanks to the dwindling number of new coronavirus cases across the country, many states are starting to relax lockdown restrictions (see summary below), while still enforcing social distancing rules.

On a national level, the Prime Minister said today that Australia is “not too far away” from easing coronavirus restrictions, with further discussion about restrictions scheduled for May 11 at a meeting of National Cabinet.

A big announcement came yesterday, with New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian stating that, from this Friday, two adults (and children, if they have them) will be allowed to visit other households.

Eternity took to social media to ask how people are feeling about their new-found “freedom” and who they will visit first.

The responses below reveal that many are feeling even more cautious than our authorities, and the move to socialise may be slow and steady rather than gung-ho.

Responses to easing restrictions:

Those at risk of infection

Matt: “I’m a little apprehensive but also looking forward to it. I’m a higher risk person but had a hard time with the ‘black dog’ the last two weeks of isolation. I plan to visit my parents (who are higher risk too) with my kids and maybe visit a few select friends who’ve been keeping contacts to a minimum. But I’ll be playing it cautious and keeping a close eye on the daily case numbers for a few weeks before I get more adventurous.”

Susan: “I’m actually super nervous about all of this. None of us will be rushing to ‘get out there’ or ‘invite in’. I feel like we need to take it super slow. We have two in our house who fall into the ‘high risk’ category so slow and steady will be our mode of conduct.”

Dalia: “As someone at high risk of serious illness if I get coronavirus, I am worried about a spike, worried about how we all get through this and worried about having to keep my family more isolated than others – and the effect of this on my kids.”

“It’s really nice to know that our nearest and dearest here will be able to meet our first child.” – Ashton

Ashton: “The news makes me happy but I’m a little nervous too – I will remain cautious (especially because I’m pregnant). We probably won’t be seeing many people in the lead up to the birth of our baby due in June but it means that when she is born, we can allow our closest family and friends to meet her. We’ll be extra careful with who visits and at what stage, but considering my parents won’t be able to come from overseas it’s really nice to know that our nearest and dearest here will be able to meet our first child.”

Jo: “It’s great we can now invite our friends (two at a time) over for a meal and talk with someone other than ourselves. It’s great my kids can get out and see their close friends. BUT …. my mum is in aged care and I still won’t be going to see her! I fear that due to the vulnerability of those in care it would only take one person to visit a home for us to see another Newmarch incident. I also feel that we have enough people not currently carrying out distancing … and now with the rules being slightly lifted, I feel many will take advantage and start driving all over the countryside.”

Fears about schools reopening

Sara: “With the girls going to school, it’s now just taken that to a whole other level because every child in that class could now have been exposed to multitudes of other people/households which makes it feel so overwhelming to me … Instead of just tackling kids going back and the risk of being exposed to 20-30 different households, now all of those people may have been to their family and friends’ houses, meaning the risk is so much greater … Feels way more exposed than it did this time yesterday.”

“I’d quite happily leave it like this for longer and have a month of no cases, than risk starting it back up again.” – Hannah

Caitlin: “It feels nice to have restrictions ease but people aren’t always sensible and could theoretically visit multiple households in a day … and schools are going back already so I’m guessing we’ll see a spike in cases. We’ll be keeping our distance a bit longer.”

Hannah: “I’m glad I’m not in a position to decide about school or child care. On one hand, the experts and studies do seem to say school is safe, plus if it wasn’t, surely our numbers would’ve skyrocketed when schools were open. But … I’d quite happily leave it like this for longer and have a month of no cases, than risk starting it back up again.”

Mixing the “bubbles”

Hannah: “I’m torn. I’m weighing up relaxing what we’ve been doing to have dinner with one particular family that we are really close with. But definitely wouldn’t extend beyond them … I heard someone use the analogy of your bubble mixing with another bubble who isn’t seeing anyone else. I’d feel more comfortable with that. Because if I see mum, but she’s seeing people who see their best friends, who then see their family … it’s no longer my immediate family of three seeing one other person; it’s multitudes. And all those connections freak me out.”

“I’m actually really worried about it. I think we have seen that people take a tiny change and take advantage.” – Anita

Rachael: “We will likely engage with families who have self isolated as we have. We have my 73-year-old mum living with us and won’t risk it otherwise. The day my son’s music teacher, who is over 65, has students back in her studio is the day we will consider changing things up a bit. Might wait at least two-three weeks to see if the curve rises as a result of these changes. Same thoughts will keep our kids at home doing distance education.”

Anita: I’m actually really worried about it. I think we have seen that people take a tiny change and take advantage … The NZ approach of saying you can extend your bubble a bit but both those bubbles have to stay intact, seems a much better approach. If people take this as a green light to socialise but just with two people at a time, but it can be two different people each time, and each of those two are socialising with say four other pairs, seems pretty easy for transmission to ramp up again.”

Reaching out to the lonely

Megan: “We have just invited people over to watch church with us Sunday – prioritised people who don’t live with peers (either live alone, or single parent or the like).”

“I am excited to see my mum who is missing my kids terribly.” – Liz

Michelle: “I’m not going to change much because I suspect it won’t last long (cases will spike again) and I’d rather keep to what we’re doing. Although it will mean that we’ll visit my mum/mum-in-law for Mother’s Day …”

Liz: “… Will be having people over slowly, but I am excited to see my mum (who is missing my kids terribly). My brother is immunocompromised, and at this stage, I’m more nervous about being a risk to others than any of us at home getting sick. So we’re not in a rush to see him. BUT (conflicted, again), he is terribly alone and his mental health has suffered tremendously … I am (generally) nervous about the whole thing rolling out too soon. So will proceed with caution.”

The bold approach

Christina: “Pumped to have a meal with friends … all our family live in New Zealand, so no changes there.”

Bec: “I’m pumped for the kids to have their grandparents over and hopefully visit our friends with kids.”

Bhavani: “I’m so dizzy with happiness, and numb with the pressure of whom to visit first!”

Easing restrictions by state

Western Australia has already started a “cautious easing of restrictions“, having allowed 10 people to gather both indoors and outdoors from April 27, and schools are now open for term 2.

New South Wales will ease gathering restrictions from Friday, May 1, and students will progressively return to classrooms from week three of this term.

In the Northern Territory, some parks and reserves will reopen from May 1.

Plans for restrictions to be rolled back in the Australian Capital Territory are likely to be announced this Friday, May 1.

Queensland will allow people to leave home for more recreational activities – such as family picnics, to go for a drive, or shop for non-essential items – from May 2. Schools will continue home-based learning until at least May 22.

Despite not enforcing social distancing rules as severely as other areas, South Australia will also consider whether measures will be lifted. Students returned to schools on Monday, April 27.

Victoria will reassess its restrictions on May 11, when the “state of emergency” ends.

Tasmania, with four new coronavirus cases confirmed overnight, has ruled out making any changes to isolation restrictions at this stage.

A more in-depth summary of current restrictions by state can be found at News GP (by the The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners) and The Guardian