In October, Thomas' spirits lifted and the city's restrictions were eased. As Melbourne's bars and nightclubs reopened, Thomas' company began to book events again.
Then, omicron appeared.
Despite Australia's high vaccination rate, strict border policies and close isolation from the rest of the world for nearly two years, the coronavirus variant has spread across Australia. These measures, which made Australia a COVID-19-free paradise in the early stages of the pandemic have been questioned again as Novak Djokovic, an unvaccinated tennis player, was deported by the government ahead of the Australian Open.
These questions have also prompted frustration and fatigue from Australians, who are now asking why their country, which seemed to have done everything possible to stop the spread of the virus, is infested.
Tell your population: 'Stay inside your homes, you can't leave your mailbox after 8 p.m. for days or months.' Then you're told, "OK, we've done the hard yards.'" Thomas' company Anthem Entertainment is facing its 23rd consecutive month without bookings due to financial losses. But then we are back. Again. Again!"
Although official figures show that there are more than 600,000.00 active cases in Australia, experts believe it is much higher. Health experts believe that the surge is due partly to two factors. First, politicians were unwilling to abandon pre-omicron promises to ease restrictions like mask-wearing and second, the emergence of an extremely contagious variant.
The government of New South Wales, which is the largest state in Australia, was faced with an epidemic of infections. They reimposed mask mandates for the first time last month. However, epidemiologists claim that it was too late.
Vaccines have not stopped the spread, even though deaths and hospitalizations are still relatively low. Australia's vaccine program, which has around 80% of the population having received at least one vaccination, began earlier than most Western countries. This means that many Australians are still waiting to be eligible for boosters.
Adrian Esterman is the chair of biostatistics at the University of South Australia. He says that vaccination alone is not enough. "We did so well until New South Wales decided that it didn't want lockdown.
Esterman urged politicians to make it mandatory to wear masks and encourage social distancing. This is especially important as students return from the southern hemisphere summer vacation. The vaccines were only available to children aged 5-11 years old this month.
Esterman, an ex-worker for the World Health Organization, says that "we don't have enough vaccines for children." "We have the knowledge to keep schools safe. First, get teachers and children vaccinated. Second, ensure that ventilation is good and that kids wear masks. What about in Australia? No."
Although Australia's high vaccination uptake has prevented a worse crisis at stressed hospitals in the country, Dr. Omar Khorshid, President of the Australian Medical Association acknowledged that it was hard to see Australia lose its status as a poster child on COVID-19 containment.
He said, "It's certainly frustrating to see our population per head rate kind of moving toward the highest in New South Wales, where we were at the lowest not that long ago." It's unfortunate that the opening of the country coincided almost exactly with the outbreak of omicrons around the globe.
Many Australians are confused by the fact that the government has changed from its "COVID-zero", long-standing approach to taxation to a "live and let it" approach in recent months.
"Omicron changed everything," Scott Morrison, Prime Minister, said this week. "My government is for keeping Australia open, and pushing forward."
Rodney Swan, a Sydney resident, was recently among the many people searching for rapid tests. The 77 year-old granddaughter of Rodney Swan is ill. Her family has been waiting for the results of their PCR test results at home for several days.
Swan states, "If you get a test that is a PCR test then you have to wait ages." "You can't get a rapid antigen test. My daughter can't get boosters for her children."
Swan is annoyed by what he considers the government's confusing messaging and stunned by the skyrocketing number of cases.
He says, "These numbers are what you get in England." "I have friends in London because I was born in London. I can sense their smugness when they look at Australia."
Australia's slow start in its booster program has made the population more vulnerable to omicron. However, it has also increased the likelihood that the country's omicron wave won't decline as quickly as other countries, according to Dr. Nancy Baxter from Melbourne University, epidemiologist and head of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health.
Baxter states that Australia's politicians are worried about the reaction of the public to any new restrictions. She says they can help to slow down the spread of N95 by giving Australians a limited number free N95 masks, and quick tests.
Baxter states, "We could manage this wave, but it's not politically possible to do so."
Djokovic is the top-ranked male tennis player in the world and a prominent vaccine skeptic. He arrived in Australia at a time when COVID-19 cases were increasing across the country. After officials cancelled his visa, Djokovic was refused entry to Melbourne's airport. He wasn't vaccinated which is a requirement for non-citizens. The judge restored his visa and ordered him to be released from immigration detention. However, he is still at risk of being deported by the immigration minister.
Chris Sidoti, former Australian human rights commissioner, wrote this week's opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald. It detailed the terror he felt after his grandchildren became sick with COVID-19 two weeks prior to their eligibility for the vaccine. Since then, both children have been admitted and discharged from the hospital.
Sidoti attributes the government's problems to his grandchildren. He asks why the government didn't have sufficient supplies of rapid tests in order to handle the inevitable overloading of the PCR system. Why did the New South Wales premier remove restrictions like mask-wearing in November? This was before vaccines were available for young children and boosters were available for most adults.
Sidoti stated in an interview that "We have gone wrong since day one because our politicians were not prepared to learn" and that they aren't ready to prepare. "People are not listening anymore because there is no consistency, credibility or answers.
Although policymakers appear to be reluctant to further lockdowns the omicron epidemic has caused many Australians not to travel, which has left small business owners concerned about their businesses' survival.
Zara Madrusan who runs several restaurants and bars in Melbourne says that "people are very broken." "We are basically locked up." There is no one going out. However, there is no protection, no advice, and no financial support. We're supposed to just "muddle along."
Thomas' company is currently facing an avalanche of cancellations and the state's decision to close down indoor dance floors at hospitality and entertainment venues this week was another gut punch. Thomas wonders where his once vibrant city will go after this.
He says, "What's our goal now?" "Where is the finish line?"