‘Punch in the guts’: Parents brace for playground closures as lockdown tightens

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Fitzroy North dad Toby Cummings says the pending closure of Melbourne’s playgrounds is a “punch in the guts” for parents.

With his son Louis, 8, homeschooling, Mr Cummings said the number of boredom-busting lockdown options available to parents was becoming increasingly scarce.

Toby Cummings and his son Louis, 8, enjoy themselves at Curtain Square park on Monday ahead of the announcement of tightened COVID-19 restriction that will, among other things, result in the closure of playgrounds.Credit:Joe Armao

“Getting to a playground is one of the few things you have left to alleviate boredom with the kids, it’s a punch in the guts,” he said.

During a quick dash to the shops on Monday afternoon, Mr Cummings and his son jumped on the swings at Curtin Park in Carlton North for one last ride before playgrounds across Melbourne were made off limits again.

“I’m surprised the playgrounds are being closed because I’ve noticed people were congregating around skate parks and basketball courts, young twenty-somethings, and it was a natural place to convene against health orders,” he said.

“Parents are quite wary of each other, there’s pro-mask feelings among parents at the playground.

Toby Cummings’ son Louis. 8, enjoys his last swing at a public playground for at least two weeks on Monday.Credit:Joe Armao

“I sort of feel like it’s quite a COVID-safe place, in my experience and I haven’t witnessed any irresponsible activity.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Monday that playgrounds, skate parks and outdoor exercise equipment would be closed from 11.59pm on Monday as the lockdown was extended by a further two weeks to September 2.

Mr Andrews defended his government’s decision to close playgrounds on Monday, saying shutting down play equipment was necessary after the Delta variant was transmitted outdoors at the MCG in July.

“Areas where large numbers of kids will congregate over time, it’s simply impossible to disinfect the space between different groups,” he said.

Mr Cummings said the MCG and playgrounds weren’t comparable.

“We’re talking about vast numbers of people packed into a tight space, whereas [playground visitors are] standing in the open air,” he said.

When Victorian health authorities wrapped caution tape around playgrounds during last year’s second wave of the pandemic, Mr Cummings said he and his wife Lizzie were forced to improvise.

One day during a walk through Carlton Gardens, Louis and his little sister Rose, 5, began to climb one of the trees planted in a neat square next to the Royal Exhibition Building when it struck them that their new play equipment would be trees.

“I suppose we’re headed back there now,” Mr Cummings said.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said there were many instances where parents supervising children at playgrounds were sitting down, drinking coffee and not wearing masks or social distancing.

“That’s the transmission risk, and the more we can get on top of each and every time – whether it’s a small and moderate or a significant contributor to that overall burden of transmission – we have to get to the finish line fast, so that this doesn’t drag on and on,” Professor Sutton said.

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