SYDNEY/MELBOURNE • Ms Emel Evcin first heard on a phone call with a friend that nearby Covid-19 cases had rendered her Melbourne apartment block quarantined.
“I looked outside from my window and (saw) no nurses, no cleaners, no food – just lots of cops,” the 42-year-old mother of two told Reuters by phone from her two-bedroom flat. “This is not a lockdown, this is a lock-up.”
More than 3,000 public housing residents in nine high-rise blocks entered a fourth full day of lockdown yesterday following a surge in Covid-19 cases, as the authorities in Australia’s most stricken city try to halt the infection for fear of it spreading rapidly in the densely populated buildings.
Melbourne is the capital of Victoria state, which yesterday reported its highest number of new infections at 191.
Victoria closed its border with New South Wales state yesterday, in contrast with the easing of restrictions in the rest of the country, where new infections are largely confined to returned travellers quarantined in hotels.
Relatively loose social distancing protocol among security staff at such hotels in Melbourne is widely believed to have contributed to the latest spike.
At the Melbourne towers, access roads were taped off and playgrounds and sporting ovals closed, with police on guard helping to distribute hampers and food packages delivered by charities. Police said they have stationed two officers on every floor of each tower.
Ms Amina Yussuf, an Australian citizen of Somali background living with her seven children in one of the towers, said she was shocked and felt traumatised when police prevented her from leaving the block to shop for food last Saturday.
“I told them I wasn’t going far but they wouldn’t let me,” she said. “It was really shocking, I was scared and very confused. I don’t know how to put it into words.”
Ms Yussuf, Ms Evcin and another resident thought the situation could have been handled better, with more community consultation.
“This building is not suitable. There is not enough space, not enough ventilation, no fresh air, no sun,” said Ms Evcin, an Australian citizen of Kurdish descent.
Such a sudden and concentrated lockdown, first seen in the epicentre of Wuhan in China, is unprecedented in Australia, which prides itself on its civil liberties.
It has sparked a public outcry that the harshest measures have been applied to some of the city’s poorest residents.
The government previously said it could not give ample notice of the lockdown because of the urgency of the matter, comparing the tower blocks to “vertical cruise ships”.
Ms Sue Cunningham, Red Cross director for Victoria, said that while the situation is very difficult for the police, such a heavy police presence is intimidating for anyone, let alone the towers’ demographic, which includes refugees.
There had been a spike in calls for support from residents, some of whom said the food items did not match their dietary needs.
Mr Matt Tilley, from Food Bank Victoria, said the charity was well practised in delivering hampers after a busy summer providing food to families affected by bush fires.
“We’ve got our packing lines working around the clock,” said Mr Tilley. “It’s like a well-oiled machine. I guess this year has given us a lot of practice.”