Eight weeks ago, Melbourne, Australia was battened down under one of the longest and harshest coronavirus lockdowns in the world. For a total of 112 days bars, restaurants and shop fronts were shuttered; citizens were forced to limit their social interactions to a handful of people within a five kilometre radius; and, at the peak of state-enforced restrictions, curfews were imposed to prohibit anyone from leaving their home between the hours of 8PM and 5AM.
Meanwhile, Australia was a nation divided. State borders were closed, movement was restricted and citizens overseas were largely prohibited from returning home. International flights were barred; the island nation was hermetically sealed. Even after a relatively small daily peak of 721 confirmed cases at the end of July, no one was willing to take any chances.
But in terms of curbing the spread of the virus, it worked. Compare Australia to other countries like the United States, Brazil, India or France—many of which are currently tallying record numbers of cases—and it’s hard not to think of the former as the lucky country.
By the end of November, Australia was recording the lowest case numbers the country had seen since March, when the pandemic had only just arrived—making it one of only a small few to have suppressed coronavirus cases from more than 500 a day to almost zero. Now COVID-19 lockdowns feel, for the most part, like a distant memory.
There’s danger of that changing, as a fresh outbreak on Sydney’s northern beaches this week prompted state governments to reintroduce some border restrictions. But for now, with the pandemic still raging around the world, Australia finds itself in an enviable position.
VICE World News sent photographer Ray Rolla around Melbourne to get some snapshots of people enjoying their newly restored freedom: by going to parks, bars and beaches and revelling in the simple pleasure of being around others.
All photos by Ray Rolla. Follow him on Instagram