Youth mental health expert Professor Patrick McGorry said the outdoor exercise measure seemed “extreme” and questioned its necessity.
“It’s a very surprising decision and if you look at Victoria it doesn’t seem to be necessary,” he said.
“The trouble of lockdowns is they remove so many sources of ways to maintain mental health. In Victoria, at least we were able to retain some of that through exercise.”
Professor McGorry said about 50 per cent of the population was susceptible to mental ill-health “and it just takes the right conditions to bring out those episodes”.
“The loss of wellbeing – reductions in purpose in life and confidence in the future and an inability to experience pleasure – can increase depression and anxiety.”
Orders banning outdoor exercise have been enforced in South Africa, Spain, Italy, Uganda and Wuhan in China. The French government banned outdoor exercise during the day.
Joep van Agteren, a mental health researcher with the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, said the rules would have a particularly harsh impact on people in vulnerable situations.
“From a mental health perspective, you can’t not be critical of that decision,” he said.
“For the majority of us, it’s most probably going to be uncomfortable because we get a change in routine.
“It becomes more tricky for those in vulnerable situations. A lot of people don’t live in very supportive home environments and some are completely alone. For them not to be able to leave home, that may have dire consequences.
“We’re going to be in for a long, heavy period if it is beyond six days.”
UNSW infectious diseases expert Professor Bill Rawlinson said the exercise directive was reasonable. He said research showed COVID-positive people breathing deeply as they ran left a trail of respiratory drops about a metre behind them, increasing the risk for those who shared a path with the infected person.
“It’s a bit like the discussion around choirs. Anything that increases the likelihood of breathing in droplets and particles containing the virus is best avoided,” Professor Rawlinson said.
“The reality is that, for a short period, it is an approach many states and countries have taken.”
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Paul is a reporter for The Age.