‘I can’t do this again. I don’t know how to survive this financially. I am on the brink of a mental breakdown.” The Instagram video of 35-year-old Carly Söderström from Torquay, a village sixty kilometers from Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria, has now been viewed by more than three million people.
Söderström is an independent photographer and can no longer do her job due to the lockdown. She is not eligible for government support. “When I heard that we were going into lockdown again, it felt like a part of me was dying. I can’t take this again,” she says in her emotional speech.
More than 6.5 million people in the state of Victoria have been in a very strict lockdown since last week. People are not allowed to go more than five kilometers from their home. Only those who have a vital profession are allowed to go to work.
It is the fifth time in a year and a half that the state in southeastern Australia has been locked. The motto of state prime minister Dan Andrews is ‘go hard, go early‘. That is why he introduced a hard lockdown while only a handful of infections have been counted.
Also in Sydney, in neighboring New South Wales, the population is indoors as much as possible. The latest wave of infections started here more than three weeks ago. Across Australia, some 1,300 people have been infected in this latest wave. The state of South Australia is now also in lockdown. In total, the lockdowns affect more than 13 million people, about half of the Australian population.
Close the borders
Australia has tackled the corona crisis differently from other countries from the start. While efforts are being made in the Netherlands to contain the virus, the Australian government is striving to eradicate it completely. The fact that it is an island and can strictly guard the borders helps with that. Immediately in March 2020, the government closed the borders. The population has already had to go into lockdown in a handful. Thanks to this rigorous approach, Australia has gone through a quiet period.Australia: few infections, low vaccination coverage
The downside is that the vaccination campaign has gotten off to a slow start. Scott Morrison’s Conservative government has been in no rush to buy vaccines. Only about 11 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated. The country dangles at the bottom of the list of western countries due to the low vaccination coverage. With each new lockdown, dissatisfaction with this backlog increases.
According to Giovanni Ruscio, manager at a steel factory in Sydney, uncertainty is especially difficult for companies and employees. “We worked through the weekend to keep the business running and the boys up and running. But then the rules are suddenly changed again. We want to support employees, but unfortunately there is no safety net for the freelancers. They are very concerned,” he says.
Unrest due to uncertainty
That uncertainty is also a concern for Melissa Black, a clinical psychologist and researcher at the Black Dog Institute, which studies mental health. “Last year everything was still new and unknown. But now that the pandemic has lasted for 18 months and the end is still not in sight, it is getting tougher. That uncertainty causes a lot of unrest,” she says.
According to Black, the social and psychological consequences of the lockdowns are becoming increasingly visible. “People are totally exhausted. They are tired of having to go into lockdown over and over again.”
She is especially concerned about people who live alone and people who lose their job due to the lockdown. “In Australia, it is mainly about the social consequences, not so much the health crisis, because the number of infections is very low. That is why the Australian experience during this pandemic is very different from the rest of the world.”
The government of Prime Minister Morrison, like the Netherlands, had initially put everything into the AstraZeneca vaccine and purchased few mRNA vaccines. As a result, Australia now suffers from a shortage, because AstraZeneca is also not recommended there for people under sixty.
‘A shit show’
Recently, the prime minister caused even more unrest when, against the advice of doctors, he called on younger people to have AstraZeneca pricked. The political opposition is benefiting. „The Australian vaccination campaign is a shit showsaid Labor politician Bill Shorten.
We expect that the demand for psychological help will only increase
Melissa Black clinical psychologist
A government campaign to persuade people to get punctured has also upset many Australians. The video shows a young woman in a hospital bed. An intubation tube comes out of her nose, she gasps in panic. Critics say the campaign is completely wrong. Especially young people, such as the woman in the video, are not yet eligible for a vaccine. “You really don’t have to scare us, we’re already afraid,” journalist Madura McCormack told Australian public broadcaster ABC. “We just want to be vaccinated. But those vaccines don’t exist.”
Also read: China: hard against the Delta variant and against civilians
Psychologist Melissa Black fears a mental health crisis. “Research shows that three quarters of Australians say their mental health has deteriorated as a result of the pandemic,” she says. She is afraid that some consequences will only become apparent later. “At the moment people focus on the here and now, they want to stay safe. But mental complaints can also only manifest themselves later. We therefore expect that the demand for psychological help will only increase, and there are already long waiting lists.”
Since Carly Söderström’s video went viral, she has been inundated with messages of support. A fundraiser has also been set up to support her financially. More than 60,000 Australian dollars have already been raised, more than 37,000 euros. The reactions are overwhelming, she tells television channel Nine. “But if the Australian people can come together so quickly to help people like me, then you wonder, why isn’t the government doing it?”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 22 July 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of July 22, 2021