Melbourne has claimed the unenviable title of the world’s most locked-down city. Rebecca Ryan chats with former Oamaru Mail reporter Gus Patterson who moved to Australia’s second-largest city amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
It has been a long 12 months in Melbourne for Gus Patterson.
The former Oamaru Mail reporter moved to Australia in November last year, going from New Zealand’s Level 1 freedoms lockdown, travel limits and mask mandates.
“I found it quite strange, in terms of the restrictions,” Mr Patterson said.
“I think it was the first time I saw everyone wearing masks – everyone was doing it. You had to get used to wearing masks outside, like whenever you left the house .”
But later that month, restrictions started to ease, and life seemed to return to normal over summer. He went to the Boxing Day test match at the MCG, with crowds of up to 30,000 people, and started to enjoy the cultural scene Melbourne was famous for.
He even returned to New Zealand for a holiday when the travel bubble opened with Australia.
After a snap five-day lockdown in February, Melbourne was locked down again in late May and mid-July, both lockdowns lasting for two weeks. When Covid-19 cases started to spike again in August, “stay-at-home” orders were back and the city has remained in lockdown ever since.
For a lot of people, this year had been a lot tougher than last year, because they had not expected to be locked down for so much of it, he said.
“It felt like we were on the other side of it and now we’re three months into an absolute grind of a lockdown.
“It’s pretty tough … everyone’s battling. No-one you talk to is absolutely loving life right now – it’s a bit s… all round.”
Restrictions in Melbourne will ease once the vaccination rate gets to 70%, which is expected to be about October 26, and each state had a vaccine tracker to follow progress. If restrictions are lifted as expected, Victorians will have spent a total of 267 days in lockdown since March 2020.
While there was a light at the end of the tunnel, people were worn down and compliance with the strict restrictions was also waning, he said.
“Last year, everyone was worried about having visitors over and stuff like that. Now, everyone’s breaking the rules to some extent.”
Mr Patterson moved to Australia to join his partner, Abby Robinson, who had been working as a nurse at Melbourne’s Box Hill Hospital since February 2020.
When she started, she was nursing in the hospital’s stroke ward, but when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, it was turned into the Covid ward, and she has been in the thick of Covid nursing ever since.
The couple live in a flat in Richmond, with two other housemates. It was a nice place, but with travel restrictions and curfews in place, Mr Patterson said they missed New Zealand’s freedoms.
“You just miss getting away for the weekend, you know. In New Zealand you can go to Waimate if you want a weekend away, or catch up with some different people.”
Mr Patterson had hoped to find a job in journalism in Melbourne, but advertising revenue had taken a big hit and there were not many opportunities in the media industry.
He also had a bad run of injuries, which had not helped his job prospects.
After securing a job as a labourer, on his first day on the construction site, he cut his hand on an angle grinder, damaging the tendons in his thumb. Then, about a month later, he broke a wine glass and cut tendons in his other hand.
After taking some time out to recover, he got a job in recruitment for the construction sector, but had been mostly working from home after Melbourne went back into lockdown about three months ago.
The Covid-19 vaccine had been mandated in Victoria’s construction industry – if people had not had at least one jab, they could not go to work, he said.
“There’s a few people you hear of who are actually just not going to work because they don’t want to get the vaccine. But most people, the vast majority of people, are happy with it and … have got the vaccine because they need the work more than they are worried about the vaccine.”
As of this week, Mr Patterson is fully vaccinated. He knew several people in Australia who had Covid, and many of them were still feeling the effects months later.
Despite the setbacks, he is pleased he made the move across the ditch.
“Professionally, it probably hasn’t worked out quite the way I wanted it to, but also the fact we’ve been locked down for so long,” he said.
“But you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
“Overall, I’m happy with it. I just feel like I missed out a little bit on the culture Melbourne is famous for.
“But surely, next year, it will come back and we’ll be getting stuck into it.”