Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews today announced that nine public housing towers in hotspot suburbs will be under a complete lockdown following a number of coronavirus outbreaks.
In a press conference this afternoon, Andrews announced that at least 23 cases of coronavirus have been found over 12 of the households currently residing in Flemington and North Melbourne’s public housing estates, with the number expected to rise in the coming days.
As a result, nine complexes have been ordered into a full-lockdown under police guard for at least the next five days.
Obviously, 23+ cases in such a confined living space is a genuine cause for concern, and is well worth the government’s attention. However, it is important to note that many of these residents are among society’s most vulnerable people, including those with disabilities, low-income earners, victims of domestic violence and those who have fled war-torn countries.
“Some are dealing with mental health challenges. Many don’t speak English as their first language. Many others work casual or insecure jobs,” Victorian Council of Social Service chief executive Emma King said, according to the ABC.
“This lockdown will scare many people, and trigger memories of past trauma.”
If you’re lucky enough to have never lived through any of these struggles, it may be hard to understand just how questionable this decision is, a decision that impacts approximately 3,000 Melbourne residents. But in such dire times it’s important to at least try to understand it, because for those 3,000 people, it’s now a really grim reality.
Unlike the rest of the people residing in Melbourne’s 12 hotspot postcodes, public housing residents cannot leave the house for any reason, not even for a breath of fresh air.
As it currently, stands, the stay-at-home order is in place for at least five days, but the public health order means that the full-lockdown can be enforced for up to 14 days. If deemed necessary, the public housing residents can be kept inside under police guard for two full weeks.
The Victorian government has assured the public that food, medical assistance and any other support will be provided to residents, including drug and alcohol support. But it’s understandably frightening for some of our most vulnerable members of society to be under such intense police guard through no fault of their own.
“I want to reassure all of our public housing tenants who are affected by this is that we will put in place all of the measures that will be required to support them in the most practical way,” Housing Minister Richard Wynne said.
“Whether it is in relation to medical support, whether it is in relation to mental health support, drug and alcohol support, obviously the most basic things around food and in that context.”
According to The Guardian, residents impacted by the strict (and immediate) lockdown felt “singled out” by the order, with reports of people already feeling “intimidated” by the 500+ police. Although the police presence has been astronomical, no reports of social workers or any other form of support that may be needed to minimise the trauma inflicted on residents.
Although the government assured the public that support would be given, one resident in particular told The Guardian that she is the carer of her elderly grandmother, and has now been put in a situation where it’s unclear who or how her relative will receive care.
“I’m actually a bit worried about my gran because she has carers coming to feed her daily … and I don’t know what’s going to happen with the carers now and who’s going to be feeding my grandma,” she said. “So I am hoping they have got that organised … she needs to be fed today.”
Understandably, many people flocked to social media to express their frustration with the government’s decision, with many pointing out the risks of drug and alcohol withdrawals, family violence and other issues that could have dire consequences if mishandled.
Public housing residents in Flemington have been subject to racial profiling & harassment from Vic Police for over a decade now, turning their homes into a high rise prison surrounded by cops is a massive abuse. Lock down all of Melbourne. #auspol #melbournelockdown— Dr Nobody (@nick__nobody) July 4, 2020
These 3000 people locked down in Vic's commission housing will need a LOT of attention to their health:— Dr Vyom Sharma (@drvyom) July 4, 2020
and big one – withdrawals from alcohol and other substances of dependence. #covid19aus #covid19vic #auspol #melbournelockdown
So if you live in a house or an apartment in those suburbs you can leave for 4 reasons. But if you live in the 9 high-rise public housing you will be locked in, with armed guards and not allowed to leave? Sounds like a prison to me. #COVID19au #melbournelockdown #BlackLivesMatter— crystal mckinnon (@crystalam) July 4, 2020
The govt could‘ve sent doctors, nurses, social workers and translators to care for vulnerable people but instead deployed armed cops to detain & threaten them w/ fines and violence— Joshua Badge (@joshuabadge) July 4, 2020
It is currently unclear if the residents will be eligible for the $1500 payment for coronavirus confirmed cases or close contacts who are forced to quarantine.
More to come.