Armed Australian police just locked down 3,000 people in tower blocks

A tweet from a Flemington resident
Steve Topple

Authorities have locked down nine public housing tower blocks in an Australian city in a bid to stem a spike in coronavirus (Covid-19) cases. Armed police are on site and reportedly patrolling each floor to keep residents inside But people are saying that this approach is “racist“, a “gross exercise of power“, and turning people’s homes into “prisons“.

Flemington: hard lockdown

At the time of publishing, the state of Victoria had recorded 108 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours. 9 News reported that it was the biggest rise since March. So the state’s premier Daniel Andrews ordered the lockdown of around 3,000 people living in 1,345 homes across nine tower blocks. The housing complexes are located in the Flemington and North Melbourne areas. SBS News reported that Andrews said in a statement that the nature of tower blocks meant the virus could spread like “wildfire”, and that:

We have sufficient evidence to take these steps. They’re not taken lightly.

We at no point underestimate how challenging this will be for families and businesses, particularly families, many of whom are vulnerable in those public housing towers, but for their safety and safety of all Victorians this is the right approach.

Andrews claimed that there were 23 new coronavirus cases in 12 households across the nine buildings. So the authorities sent police to the tower blocks, which are the equivalent of council or social housing in the UK, to enforce the lockdown:

Reports came in that police would be present on each floor to enforce the lockdown. But people on social media were unhappy with the move:

There are several major issues surrounding the lockdown in Flemington.

Marginalised residents

As the Victorian Council of Social Service noted:

Some public housing tenants have fled war or family violence. Some are dealing with mental health challenges. Many don’t speak English as their first language. Many others work casual or insecure jobs.

This lockdown will scare many people, and trigger memories of past trauma.

ABC News said that:

There have long been concerns about overcrowding in the blocks, which often have shared laundry facilities and small units.

To be eligible for housing assistance, people are usually on low incomes or live with disabilities.

Lawyer Paul Kidd pointed out that some residents may be drug-dependant or in rehabilitation programmes. He also noted how:

There will probably be women in those flats who are now stuck in an apartment with their abusive partner, who will be coming down off drugs or alcohol addiction, off their meds, etc. I just hope nobody dies.

Obvious classism?

Others noted that there seemed to be elements of classism in premier Andrews’ decision:

Jim Malo pointed out that back in March, rich people who had been skiing in Aspen, US brought coronavirus back and spread it around the wealthy Victorian suburb of Toorak:

Meanwhile, a walk away from the tower blocks is Flemington racecourse, which on Saturday 4 July had a ‘race day’ going on. So it seems a stone’s throw from poor people being locked down, richer people can enjoy the races. But there’s also another element to the story. And it’s where the outbreak came from.

Melbourne airport

Journalist Megan Clement is currently quarantined in a hotel at Melbourne airport. She put out a long Twitter thread on what she’s seen. In short, she believes that the rise in cases seen in Victoria is due to poor lockdown measures at the airport and hotels around it. As she wrote:

I am currently in the Melbourne Airport Holiday Inn on day 12 of hotel quarantine. I am here because of a family illness. It’s an awful situation. But I feel I have speak up after these latest developments in Victoria.

There have been reports since last weekend that security staff are untrained in infection control and are unwittingly spreading COVID-19. We know the hotels are the source of much of this outbreak. Yet nothing has changed here, in fact it’s gotten worse.

Here’s what I’ve seen:
*Security guards without masks or gloves.
*Holiday Inn staff without masks or gloves.
*Guards lacking training on how to dispose of PPE (at one point I was asked by an unmasked supervisor to put used PPE into a guard’s hands rather than the dedicated infectious waste bin).
*Guard numbers have been cut in half from 4 per floor to 2.
*Staff members (not guards) have told me they are moving between different quarantine hotels for shifts.
*External guests are checking into the hotel and it is still bookable online…
*Fresh air breaks have been cancelled since last weekend.

Julia posed the obvious question linked to Melbourne airport:

And Clements appeared to provide an answer:

Journalist Angus Livingston echoed this:

One rule for one…?

Stories from residents were already starting to emerge on social media. Amona Hassab, who appears to live in one of the tower blocks, tweeted about two people she had spoken to:

So it seems that despite the spike in cases potentially not being the tower block residents’ fault, Victoria’s administration is forcibly locking them down anyway. It also seems that it’s one rule for the wealthy, and another for the poor in this instance. The Canary will be monitoring this developing story.

Featured image via Amona Hassab – Twitter

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