SYDNEY – Experts say coronavirus lockdowns anywhere in the world can trigger stress, irritability, fear and fatigue. There can be a disconnection from extended family and friends, causing loneliness. Uncertainty is another corrosive factor.

In Australia, mental health charities estimated that about a third of people in Melbourne suffered some sort of depression during the nation’s longest and strictest lockdown last year. Research has also found that lockdowns are making some Australian children too anxious to go to school.

Life in Australia was beginning to return to normal. But recently, the highly contagious delta variant was detected in several states and territories threatening progress. Lockdowns were imposed in Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Darwin — subjecting millions of Australians to stay-at-home orders.

Professor Susan Rossell, a cognitive neuropsychologist at Swinburne’s Centre for Mental Health, compares mental health consequences of the coronavirus crisis to a conflict.

“There are very few pandemics that have lasted this long. So, the comparison to wars, especially wars that last a very long time, is a good one,” Rossell said. “During the conflict times, so, during the pandemic time, it elevated stress and anxiety, loneliness, confusion, poorer quality of life — all the things that we are seeing at the moment.”   

Mental health experts have said anxiety will “haunt” many Australians in the future as uncertainty surrounds a slow vaccination rollout and the likelihood that international borders will stay closed for another year, separating families from relatives overseas.

The lockdowns in Perth, Brisbane and Darwin were lifted in recent days, but Sydney, Australia’s most populous city, remains under a stay-at-home order until at least Saturday. Authorities are racing to contain a COVID-19 outbreak linked to a limousine driver thought to have been infected with the delta variant after transporting an international flight crew at Sydney Airport.

Residents in lockdown can leave their homes for work, to buy groceries, to exercise, care for a relative or to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

Australia has recorded just under 31,000 COVID-19 infections since the pandemic began. 910 people have died.

Only about 7% of the population of 25 million are fully vaccinated.