Montreal

What Quebec can learn from Melbourne, Australia's second wave restrictions

With Montreal, Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches now under the highest COVID-19 alert level, public health experts say the provincial government should be taking tips from Australia’s second largest city, Melbourne.

Australia’s second largest city went back into strict lockdown after seeing new spike in cases in July

Quebec Premier François Legault could learn a lot from second wave measures taken in Melbourne, Australia, public health experts say. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

With Montreal, Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches now under the highest COVID-19 alert level, public health experts say the provincial government should be taking tips from Australia's second largest city, Melbourne.

On July 8, after seeing a resurgence in the number of cases — with the majority coming from the state of Victoria —Melbourne was placed back into lockdown.

"Because of the timing of the year and the way the virus is unfolding, Australia has already been through its second wave," said Simon Bacon, a behavioural medicine professor at Concordia University and the lead researcher for the iCARE study, a global online survey looking at how countries and their citizens are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

"This was a country that was having one, two, three cases per day after the first wave finished and then all of a sudden it started to jump again: 10 cases, 20 cases, 30 cases. At that point in time, they were like 'we are now on the cusp of a second wave, so let's react fast.'"

While it's hard to compare the pandemic's spread from one country to another, experts say lessons can be learned from measures put in place to combat the coronavirus.

The July lockdown meant Melbourne's 4.9 million citizens could leave their homes only for essential reasons. The school vacation at the time was extended, and gym and hair salons closed.

As cases continued to rise, the city went into further lockdown in August, with schooling done remotely and a nightly curfew put in place from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. 

"What they did really well, they were consistent in the messaging, they explained what their strategy was and they had very clear markers about 'when we hit this, this is what's going to happen,'" said Bacon.

"All the citizens knew what was coming, they knew why and they were able to articulate the plan and the benefits of the plan."

Only now is the city beginning to see some of those restrictions loosened.

Police officers and soldiers patrolled Treasury Gardens as they enforced strict lockdown laws in Melbourne on August 5, 2020. (William West/AFP/Getty Images)

Getting tough on Quebecers

"Definitely, I think Australia is a country that we can learn from," said Benoit Barbeau, a virologist at Université du Québec à Montréal.

"The more aggressive we are, the better."

Quebec Premier François Legault announced stricter measures from Oct. 1 to Oct. 28, including a ban on home gatherings, the closure of bars, libraries, cinemas and theatres. Restaurants must close their dining areas but can sell food to go.

Schools, gyms, hair salons and retail stores will remain open.

"I think that the government is hoping that these restrictions are enough because they are very much aware that putting more restrictions, making tougher rules could mean people avoid following them," said Barbeau.

"But if the initial set of measures is not strong enough, we may be losing ground already." 

Bacon said the Quebec government should consider what Australia has already experienced.

"There's a good example of a country who perhaps got it right, or as right as you can be at this time, and a pretty good model of what's shown to work," he said.

Legault himself didn't rule out an extension of the measures announced beyond Oct. 28.

"We give ourselves four weeks with these measures to see if we can stop the second wave," the premier said Monday.

"I truly hope we do. But I cannot and will not make false promises."

About the Author

Sarah Leavitt

Journalist

Sarah Leavitt is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

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