Australia

Parents and children taste freedom in Melbourne amid concerns about health impact of lockdown

Source: SBS/Abby Dinham

Melbourne’s kids and parents have flocked to enjoy the sunshine as public playgrounds reopen after months of being off limits, but some little ones were nervous being surrounded by so many other children.

After six months of being cordoned off with tape, Footscray’s Play Space is bustling with children calling out to each other and running between pieces of equipment.

Outdoor playgrounds and outdoor fitness equipment have been reopened in Melbourne, with the 1.5 metre physical distancing rule remaining and the five kilometre travel limit still in place.

Thirteen-month-old Jasper Ooi hasn’t stopped smiling, watching the children run around him as he toddles around the wooden ship.

Mother Olga Perez says he’s finally in his element.

Jasper and mum Olga happy to be out at the playground after months of it being off limits
SBS/Abby Dinham

“He just wants to be outside, he doesn’t want to be locked indoors.”

Jasper is Olga's first baby and although her parents live in a neighbouring suburb, she and her partner have not been able to call upon the family for support due to Melbourne’s COVID-19 restrictions.

“Being a first-time mother and not having any kind of help has been really difficult, just the isolation has been really hard.”

Rugged up against a still-chilly Melbourne morning, Jasper grabs handfuls of bark, smiling at the adults who walk by, calling out "Aunty" and "Uncle".

Ms Perez says the reopening of the playground makes it feel like there is a light at the end of the COVID tunnel.

“A little bit of sunshine and having the playgrounds open, it’s just wonderful and just him seeing other little kids is great.”

She says after spending half his life without other children around, Jasper will have some catching up to do in his socialising skills.

“They just get into themselves and they have no idea about other kids and think it’s all about them.”

She says COVID has been kinder to her family than others, as her partner has been able to continue working at his job in the construction industry.

But she worries for the health of her elderly parents.

“They were just really looking forward to a grandson, it’s been demoralising for them. It's really affected their health, they’ve gone downhill.”

Getachew Abebe has similar fears for his family in Ethiopia.

Getachew Abebe and son Allan, have been isolating for months
SBS/Abby Dinham

A resident of Maribynong in Melbourne’s west for the last 20 years, his extended family lives in the African country that’s so far recorded over 64,000 cases of the virus.

The pandemic in Ethiopia peaked around mid-August and has been steadily falling, but Mr Abebe says many of his relatives are without work or any support.

“They don’t have any jobs or any work and it’s not like it is here. Our government here in Australia looks after us. They don’t have anything there.”

He brought his two boys, two-year-old Thomas and Allan, who is one and a half, to the playground to get some sun and fresh air.

Mr Abebe says it is surprising to see so many people out.

“We are surprised a little bit. My kids are all the time at home and it is hard. Today we come out here and we are surprised to see all the kids. My kids are enjoying it.”

Mr Abebe has been a taxi driver in Melbourne for 18 years, but when the pandemic broke out he took time off from his job to lessen the risk of bringing the virus home to his partner and children.

“After the corona came in. I haven’t been working. I don’t want to risk the kids. It is too dangerous for them,” he said. “It is very bad, we never expected anything like this.”

He says while Australia has fared better than other countries, it has been difficult to isolate from friends and family.

However he says he supports the stage restrictions in Melbourne.

“Just sitting all the time at home, not seeing any family, not seeing any friends, it is very hard. The government has this law but it's ok. The most important thing is our safety, our health.”

Nicole Li’s parents have stayed away to ensure the health and safety of their new grandson.

Nicole and Mike had been hoping family from China would be able to help with baby Nathan
SBS/Abby Dinham

She lives in Maribynong with husband Mike Chen and 16-month-old baby Nathan. The family has come to Footscray’s Play Space for his first outing since the lockdown.

“We’re trying to let him become friendly with other people because he is always staying at home.

"He has become a lonely single child, and I don’t know how to play with a child sometimes so it's really neat to come out and have fun with other kids.”

Ms Li’s parents, who live in China, had planned to come to Australia to help take care of the baby – their first grandson born in Australia – before the pandemic shut international borders.

“They changed their plans, they didn’t want to go anywhere because the virus went global. I am missing them. I hope they can come and help take care of the little one.”

Mr Chen says he hasn’t had much work in his construction job since the Stage Four restrictions kicked in.

Ms Li is a taxation accountant but is currently on leave to look after Nathan.

“We haven’t enrolled him in childcare because it is a difficult time, we don’t want to risk him getting sick.”

Flanked by his parents, Nathan was taken down the slide, sat in a bouncy chair and pushed on the swing, but he was soon ready to leave.

A brief visit to the outside world was enough for a child of a new generation that has spent the majority of their lives, thus far, indoors. 

“He was nervous to see the crowd, I think we need to go home,” said Ms Li.

Metropolitan Melbourne residents are subject to Stage 4 restrictions and must comply with a curfew between the hours of 8pm and 5am.

During the curfew, people in Melbourne can only leave their house for work, and essential health, care or safety reasons. Between 5am and 8pm, people in Melbourne can leave the home for exercise, to shop for necessary goods and services, for work, for health care, or to care for a sick or elderly relative.

The full list of restrictions can be found here. All Victorians must wear a face covering when they leave home, no matter where they live.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at https://sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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