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A Tale of Two Press Conferences: Melbourne's Emotional Reactions to the Release from Lockdown

On the 7th of July 2020 the entire Australian state of Victoria went into lockdown due to an exponentially rising number of COVID-19 cases. This second wave of infections was the result of a chain of unfortunate events centred on the mandatory quarantine program for incoming overseas travellers (the borders have been mostly closed since March, but Australian citizens and permanent residents plus a few other groups are still allowed in). Almost 6.4 million people were in hard lockdown conditions for 112 days before finally the measures were eased at 11:59 pm on the 27th of October. I can reliably report from talking to friends and family who live in Victoria that lockdown sucks. So how did everyone react emotionally when the lockdown conditions were eased last week?

Once again, we used Twitter to test the emotional waters around this time period, focusing on tweets from people based in the Victorian capital city of Melbourne over the week covering the announcement that lockdown was coming to an end. We scraped tweets that mentioned the keywords ‘COVID’, ‘lockdown’, or the Twitter handle of the Victorian Premier Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP). The volume of tweets over time is shown in Figure 1.

Fig 1 – Tweet volume from Melbournians mentioning COVID-19, lockdown or @DanielAndrewsMP.

Immediately obvious are the two significant peaks on the 25th and 26th of October, with the next most significant peak on the 27th. Following a steady reduction in both new cases and deaths due to the pandemic, Dan Andrews, the Victorian Premier, held a press conference on Sunday the 25th where he was expected to announce that the 100+ days of lockdown restrictions would be eased. Contrary to expectations, he had this to say instead… “I know plenty of people were looking forward to some good news today. And soon, very soon, we’ll have some. But for now, we need to do again what we’ve done throughout this pandemic: follow the advice of our public health experts. That means there can be no changes to restrictions in Melbourne today.”

Twenty four hours later, he held another press conference with a very different message… “…today I can confirm what we’ve long waited for: Melbourne will move out of lockdown and into the Third Step.”

Lockdown conditions were finally eased at midnight the following day. After 100+ days of severe lockdown, I’d be pretty emotional getting that news. What did people have to say on Twitter? Running all the tweets we scraped through Receptiviti’s API provides interesting insights into the emotional reaction of Melbournians (see Figure 2). There’s a lot to digest, so let’s focus on the emotions that tend to shine through: anger, disgust, love and joy.

Fig 2 – Emotional response of Melbournians during the week where COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were relaxed.

Zooming in on these emotions we see some interesting patterns (Figure 3). First of all, a hell of a lot of anger plus a fair bit of disgust, particularly on the 25th when Andrews produced the unexpected bad news that lockdown would continue (not surprising in the least). Both negative emotions dropped significantly the next day when he announced relaxing of the lockdown conditions and continued to drop over the next two days. Joy and love jumped up on the day of that announcement, but they quickly dropped over the subsequent days and anger still dominated. Another group of interesting emotions includes excitement, gratitude and surprise (Figure 4). Surprisingly (no pun intended), ‘surprise’ didn’t twitch too much throughout, though there was a slight increase coinciding with the announcement of lockdown easing. Unsurprisingly, gratitude and excitement both peaked at that announcement, rapidly decreasing over the next two days.

Fig 3 – Anger, disgust, joy and love over the lockdown announcements.

Fig 4 – Excitement, gratitude and surprise over the lockdown announcements.

Ok, so let’s look at the more general big picture. Were Melbourne tweeps expressing more good or bad feeling during the announcements? Not surprising in the least, bad feeling spiked when Andrews announced lockdown would continue, while good feeling overwhelmed bad feeling slightly during the next announcement of lockdown easing (Figure 5). Even more telling, emotionality spiked during both announcements, while sentiment (generally being slightly negative during the entire week) significantly dipped during the first disappointing announcement and bumped into positive territory with the second press conference before heading back into slightly negative territory. Overall, I think it’s clear we are seeing what we would expect – people were really unhappy at being told lockdown would continue, while emotions reversed when told they would soon be free. Unfortunately perhaps for Dan Andrews though, it seems that negative emotions returned to prominence quickly afterwards. Time will tell how the electorate will judge him and his party for their response to the pandemic.

Fig 5 – Good vs bad feeling over the lockdown announcements.

Fig 6 – Emotionality and sentiment over the lockdown announcements.


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