The entire greater Melbourne Metropolitan area, and Mitchell Shire on the city’s northern fringe, is currently subject to Stage 3 lockdown conditions as part of on-going efforts to battle the coronavirus outbreak. However with daily case numbers consistently clocking in uncomfortably above the 200 mark, Premier Dan Andrews has flagged moving Victoria to even stricter conditions if things don’t begin to improve soon.

At yesterday’s daily press briefing, Premier Andrews directly referred to “Stage 4” movement restrictions for the first time, asserting “If you don’t want a Stage 4, if you don’t want the lockdown to last a moment longer, then please follow the rules. Do the right thing by your family, your community, and every family.”

“We’re not there yet,” the Premier was quick to caution, however he further stated that “I can’t rule out we have further limits placed on people’s movement. I can’t rule that out.”

Since then, “Stage 4” has been a trending term on localised Melbourne social media, as residents wonder out loud just what those restrictions might entail.

How Would Stage 4 Restrictions In Melbourne Differ To Stage 3?

Already, Melburnians are restricted to the four core reasons to leave the house; those being shopping for food and essential items, seeking medical care or assisting in the caregiving of others, work or study, and daily exercise. The current Stage 3 restrictions, however, also permit a range of business activities to continue, such as takeaway food options for pubs, bars, and cafes, retail stores and shopping centres, haircuts, and large department stores.

While there’s no publicly available information on what an Australian-implemented Stage 4 might look like, there is precedent in our region. Namely, New Zealand.

Back in March, New Zealand implemented a hard-line, tiered coronavirus response strategy that shares numerous similarities to Australia’s COVID-19 response thus far. The entire country was placed into a restrictive Stage 4 lockdown on March 25, which lasted for a period of just over four weeks.

That strategy aimed to eliminate instances of the virus in the country, rather than suppress its spread which the Australian response has been more angled to thus far.

New Zealand’s Stage 3 restrictions are very similar to Australia’s; mass gatherings (both indoor and outdoor) cancelled and restricted, large public venues closed, primary medical care shifted to telehealth, travel in affected areas significantly limited.

New Zealand’s Stage 4, then, can be looked at as a rather ominous vision of things to come.

What Did Stage 4 Restrictions In New Zealand Entail?

Under Stage 4 restrictions, Kiwis were instructed to remain home virtually at all times. Movement was severely limited. Stage 4 restrictions were in place from March 25 until April 27. After that time they were rolled back to Stage 3. In all, it took 10 weeks for New Zealand to go from the implementation of strict Stage 4 restrictions, back to Stage 1 where almost all social distancing measures were repealed.

Here’s what was allowed and when, under those restrictive Stage 4 conditions.

Outdoor Exercise

Limited to local areas only, and conducted strictly with people from the same household. No driving to other suburbs to run along the beach boardwalk or visit a favoured dog park, for example.

Indoor Gatherings

Limited to people in the same household, with the exception of people living alone. Those people could select one other single-person house or small household to visit in an isolated “bubble.” No other direct visitors allowed. This included family and romantic partners. Contactless supply drop-offs were permitted, however.

Pubs, Bars, Cafés, and Restaurants

Fully closed. Not even permitted to operate as takeaway venues. That included takeaway coffees, all takeaway food offerings, the vast majority of food delivery services including Uber Eats, and even large fast food outlets like McDonald’s.

Work

Non-essential businesses were permitted to operate as Work From Home only. If businesses couldn’t conduct work at home, they had to close. Essential workers were strictly limited to people such as supermarket and hospital staff, and the support staff required to keep those facilities open like cleaners, IT staff, security, banking, and supply chain personnel.

Retail & Services

Supermarkets, corner stores, foodbanks, pharmacies, petrol stations, and a select handful of bottle shops were the only retail services allowed to remain open for face-to-face operation. All other retail companies had to either restrict operations to contactless delivery services only, or close altogether. Small face-to-face businesses permitted to remain open were restricted to one customer inside at a time. The closure orders extended to big box retail operations like K-Mart and Bunnings.

Schools

All schools, from early childhood right through to Universities, were closed. Remote learning operations were put into place, and Government-funded childcare staff were deployed to the homes of essential workers with children under the age of 14 if required.

While there’s no suggestion at the moment that the Victorian Government will definitely implement tougher restrictions, it remains an on-going worry with the number of daily coronavirus cases in Melbourne continuing to spike.

So for now, it remains up to us to do the right thing and limit our contact with other people. If we can’t do that ourselves, the Government might have to do it for us.

Image: Getty Images / Darrian Traynor