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'The lockdown was worth it': Canadians abroad share their COVID-19 stories

Last Updated Nov 16, 2020 at 10:52 pm EDT

In recent weeks, Josh McConnell who is from the GTA but now living in Auckland, New Zealand, went to a live music awards ceremony, saw a musical with friends, and even caught an in-person rugby match — all this, during a global pandemic.

“There were 1,000 or 2,000 people in the arena, we danced and had a good time,” McConnell said. “We’re very fortunate,” McConnell said.

Of course, it wasn’t like this when the pandemic began.

McConnell said when the first outbreak happened in mid-March, New Zealand went into full lockdown mode, with the government implementing some of the strictest measures in the world.

“You couldn’t even leave your house really,” he said. “If you were more than five kilometres away from where you lived police could stop you, there was no drive-thrus or food delivery. Everything just stopped.”

As Ontario and most parts of Canada battle a second wave of COVID-19, some health experts and government officials are also calling for a “circuit breaker” reset or lockdown of regions with widespread outbreaks, so that the spread can be contained before it gets too hard to manage.

On Monday, Ontario reported 1,487 new cases of COVID-19, which was up from 1,248 cases the day before. Last week, Canada’s top doctor said if stricter measures by the provinces are not put into place, case counts could be as high as 10,000 per day across the country by early December.

New Zealand has only reported one new case of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours. The country has around five million people.

David Milburn who is originally from Ottawa and now living in Melbourne, Australia, also went through a strict lockdown. He said it was a tough eight months mentally and financially, but he is glad things are where they are now as the country moves into its summer season.

“Last Monday they opened up the 25-kilometre limit,” he said. “It was not the (sic) funnest eight-months, but I think it’s worth it. I think we saved a lot of lives. Overall, it’s not been perfect, it hammered the economy, but from where I’m standing right now, I can go outside and not really worry about getting COVID.”

Although in the last day there was a new outbreak reported in south Australia, before that and for the past five days, the country reported zero infections. It completed around 80,000 to 100,000 tests per day for a population of 26 million people.

Professor Sharon Lewin, a leading infectious diseases expert and the director of the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, said implementing early lockdown measures — while not without massive challenges — helped get the country to where they are now.

The Doherty Institute diagnosed the first case of COVID-19 Melbourne and developed testing, which was shared with the rest of the country. It was also the first to isolate the virus outside of China, and shared the development with the rest of the world.

Lewin said while “not perfect” and met with “mixed-reviews from the business community,” the lockdown measures worked.

“COVID across Australia has been really two stories,” she said. “The first story was the first wave, which was dealt with by rapid implementation testing, closing our borders early, and a national lockdown.

“And most of our cases in that first wave were imported cases, and there was very little community transmission. The only place in the country that had a second wave was Victoria, where Melbourne is the capital, and we had a very different outbreak,” Lewin said.

That outbreak peaked at 700 cases per day across the state of Victoria — the largest outbreak in all of Australia.

In Victoria, people could only leave their homes for an hour a day, and only travel within five kilometres outside of their living areas for either work, to get exercise, get groceries and medications, and care-giving.

“It was painful and difficult for many people, but we achieved a level of infection that means that we can live safely with COVID-19,” Lewin said. “We got it to such a low level we can use our resource to squash any new outbreak.”

Lewin agrees that while extreme in nature, the lockdown measures got “buy-in” from communities and businesses because of consistent messaging and a strong government leadership. She does explain that huge amount of resources went into testing and contact tracing, as well as supporting businesses and supporting people unable to go to work.

“The government rapidly put in services that allowed people who would normally go to work because they had to, to stay to stay at home and to be looked after,” she said.

Sarah Mak, who is originally from Mississauga and now lives in Brisbane, Queensland, for the past 10 years, said that region of Australia also experienced a full lockdown, but has slowly emerged to more loose measures.

Mak said she “saw the effects of what happens” when everyone follows protocols and understands why the measures are in place.

“Life is pretty normal right now,” she said. “It so hard to say that. We can’t travel outside of the state, but we go camping, we see friends, there aren’t that many people wearing masks … we’re managing.”

All three Canadians explain that though the lockdown has been effective, it also proved challenging. The pandemic has left some jobless, with many people living in isolation, and it has impacted mental health.

Hear more from Canadians living abroad below: