Despite making significant progress over the past month the Victorian government has announced a further 63 COVID-19 cases overnight, and a further 5 deaths, bringing the state’s total number of fatalities to 666. With new daily infections remaining at this level Premier Daniel Andrews today announced a two-week extension to Melbourne’s current stage 4 lock down, however with some significant changes.
Effective from 11.59pm on September 13, the 8pm curfew will be extended to 9pm with the daily exercise limit extended from one hour per day to two.
From September 28, subject to public health advice, public gatherings will increase to five people and schools will begin to reopen in stages. Outdoor pools will also reopen, and personal training sessions will resume with up to two people per trainer, per session.
Further easing’s of restrictions are not planned until October 26th and then again on November 23rd.
However, one of the most significant and most welcome announcements to come from Sunday afternoon’s press conference was the extension of social bubbles to includes individuals from single person households.
“The social bubbles to accommodate those who live on their own are in direct response to feedback we have had from those who have been isolated away from anyone else for a long period of time. We will create those social bubbles so that much like the way intimate partner arrangements work now singles and those who live alone will be able to partner up with somebody else and they will be able to visit each other,” Mr Andrews said.
For the LGBTQI community, where many individuals already face significant social isolation, this comes as welcome news Karen Field CEO of Drummond St Services told Star Observer.
“Since entering into stage 4 the impact on people’s mental health in particular has been unbelievable. We have had a trebling of those who have some form of suicidal ideation or poor mental health.
“Being able to set up some form of peer support from someone who can be inside your bubble is so vital to us being socially connected. It’s pretty tough when you lose not only your health supports but also social supports too.”
The 5km travel limit will not apply to travel bubbles between single person households, however, the 9pm curfew will and concerns surrounding how these new arrangements will be policed still remain.
“The one thing that is missing, in the surveillance and the policing of this is that it’s not just about police knocking on someone’s door but also about neighbours understanding that some people living alone need this kind of connection,” Field explained. “People need to hold compassion for one another and understanding the really tough run it is for some people.”
One such individual that understands all too well the impacts of COVID-19 and the challenges of social isolation, is 50-year-old- queer fashion designer Sprinkle Pier.
Pier has faced significant challenges over the past year, both professionally and personally.
“Because people have been working from home (and wearing more casual clothing) for many months, they haven’t really spent money on the type of garments I sell. That definitely affected the cash flow,” Pier told Star Observer. “When masks became compulsory, I diversified my business and also started making them. That definitely helped a lot. But when the second lockdown happened those sales pretty much dried up.”
Last year, Pier’s long-term partner Holdin passed away. An event that Pier reflects upon by adding, “I am quite accustomed to spending time alone since my partner passed away. We were together nearly three years, and we had a very deep connection, a soul connection. I almost feel their passing prepared me for this isolation.
“But then during this pandemic my 19-year-old cat, who was my companion also passed away. I never felt alone with her around, but since she has gone loneliness has definitely crept in.”
Upon hearing today’s announcements Pier concluded by saying, “To be able to nominate a friend to hang out with will definitely change things for me, but I just need to work out who that person is going to be. I don’t really have one bestie. It’ll be great to see someone, hang out and do fun stuff though. That’s for sure.
“Video chats are fine but it’s not the same as face-to-face.”
For those in Melbourne’s LGBTQI community looking for support during these times the recently launched Stay Homo campaign by Barba and Thorne Harbour, is a useful online tool. There you can find an extensive list of organisations continuing their support throughout the COVID-19 lockdowns.
For more info click here.