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On the 28th October 2020 Melburnians came out of a 112 day, stage 4 hard lockdown.

Article by Rob Marlowe, Storyteller, Cafe Culture Digital.

To give you some perspective, this is over a quarter of a year or more accurately closer to four months of not being free to leave your own home! I spoke to a client in Melbourne in late September and she told me despondently “I have just looked at my calendar and since March I have only spent 2 weeks out of lockdown”, which was a hard-hitting statement, as I sat comfortably, far-removed, at my regional desk in NSW.

My mind boggled at what cost this would have on the economy and mental health of my Australian compatriots.

July was the darkest month in Melbourne, the cultural capital of Australia and not just metaphorically speaking but figuratively cold, wet and dark. Melbourne was facing a second wave of the Covid pandemic, attributed to an outbreak at a Melbourne quarantine hotel, leading to, at one point, having over 7,000 active cases. This localised outbreak by Aussie standards was far worse than the original attack of Covid, when a man returning from Wuhan, China landed in Melbourne, with a positive test for the virus on the 25th of January last year.

Ten months and one day later, the wave ended, with zero new cases being recorded on the 26th October 2020!

To the 5 million Melburnians who endured one of the worlds longest and strictest lock downs, we congratulate you!

Experts from around the world have recognised Australia as successfully suppressing the pandemic, alongside countries like Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, Hong Kong, as well as our close friends and cousins, New Zealand.

Raina MacIntyre, a biosecurity professor at the University of New South Wales’ Kirby Institute, told the BBC that Australia’s response had been “light years ahead” of the US and the UK.

“It is just thoroughly shocking. When we think of pandemics we don’t think that well-resourced, high-income countries are going to fall apart at the seams, but that is exactly what we have seen,” she said.

So, if we can accept that we are world-beaters when it comes to a pandemic, where then, I pose the question, does this leave Melbourne economically and more importantly mentally? It’s difficult to be definitive, as we recognise that the statistics of fallen cafe businesses and the economic cost is yet to be determined and the personal cost and mental struggles to Melburnians, will take even longer to be seen and may never really be known properly.

I had the absolute pleasure of chatting to renowned, multi winning Australian Barista Champion and owner of infamous Axil Coffee, David Makin.

David has two young daughters with wife Zoe, who’s also his business partner. Pre-Covid, Axil Coffee had a total of 11 stores. Like many industrious businesspeople during the pandemic, David and business partners, expanded their business to 16 stores. However 3 stores remain shut due to Covid. I asked why those specific stores? The answer was their CBD locations. They are due to re-open this month!

I quizzed David of his experience of the lockdowns, starting with the first wave. He told me that his two young daughters Raina and Milla, both under 5 years of age, were still allowed to go to pre-school and as for Zoe and himself, who both often worked on their laptops from home, there wasn’t a lot of change! “The government incentives were extremely important and allowed us to keep operating” David tells me, “professionally though, our stores were reduced to limited seating and takeaway. In June, there was some normality restored, as restrictions were eased for a 5 week period, but then came the harder, longer, stage 4 lockdown”.

Things for David and Zoe became a bit more complicated at this point, with pre-schools shutting and entertaining young children at home, with no set routine was more challenging. This didn’t slow the Makins down, managing to open five new Axil Coffee stores, however the hard lockdown meant takeaway only, which then led to three stores closing as the Melbourne CBD became a ghost town. I asked David how this affected the business and he relays his pains. “Even though we could offer takeaway and we were supported by government incentives, the continuity of trade was broken! We have built our businesses on client loyalty and the week-to-week repetitive nature that brings in our faithful customers. Unfortunately, that creature of habit routine was broken”.

I speculated with David about cafes that might have gone out of business and he admitted, like many successful business folk, that he lives in his own bubble, concentrating on his own business.  However, in his local Melbourne suburb alone, three cafes had gone to the wall during Covid. I conclude my conversation, enquiring after David’s mental health and any scars that might have been left by the long hard lockdown? David, who falls outside the high-risk demographic, said “it’s behind us and feels like an age ago. Life moves on!

Life may not move on for everybody though, in quite the same vein.

For the broader Melburnian population, we might never be able to identify the exact cost financially or mentally. As many Melburnians returned to lockdown, the impact of jobs, and loss of income would lead to loneliness, anxiety, fear and hopelessness. From research it seems women, those from lower demographics, the youth and parents with younger children are going to be at most risk. Mental health organisation, Beyond Blue reported that 75% of contacts during the month of August 2020, was from Victorians.

As it transpired, the Melbourne hard lockdown, recognised to be one of the longest and hardest in the world, was successful! Beating the pandemic from 7,000 active cases down to zero. However, there was and will be a cost to the fiscal and mental state of Melbourne, yet to be fully understood. Life is rarely black and white, the reality can, in fact, be many shades of grey. The coffee industry is a very special industry, full of passion and excellence, which I hope recognises the need to support and show love for each other. So be sure you are checking in, reassuring friends and colleagues scarred by the isolation, that they are not alone and as my beautiful mother always tells me, “Always leave them wanting more!”, but more importantly “It’s good to talk!

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