24th July 2020

In_pictures Coronavirus: The tenants enduring Australia’s toughest lockdown

In_pictures Coronavirus: The tenants enduring Australia’s toughest lockdown

In_pictures

in_pictures A woman in one of the locked-down public housing towers in Melbourne's west stares out the windowImage copyright
Getty Images

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A harsher lockdown regime has been imposed on housing tower blocks in Melbourne

Amid a second wave of coronavirus, the entire city of Melbourne has just been ordered back into lockdown for six weeks.

But for 3,000 people living in public housing tower blocks, an even stricter lockdown was imposed on Saturday.

Unlike other Melburnians, residents of the nine towers cannot leave for any reason – they are subject to a police guard.

It’s the toughest lockdown seen in Australia so far.

in_pictures Police cars and officers outside one of the locked-down towers in MelbourneImage copyright
Getty Images

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Police patrols are enforcing the stay-at-home order inside the 20-storey buildings

The “detention directions” in suburbs of Flemington and North Melbourne are designed to contain a cluster of infections found in some of the buildings.

Hundreds of police were sent to the sites immediately after the order was announced live on TV by Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews.

Many residents were caught unaware. When they tried to leave the building, they were stopped.

in_pictures Police officers speaking to residents outside the entrance to one of the housing tower blocksImage copyright
AFP

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Police had to explain the order to residents on Saturday night

in_pictures Two police officers speak to a woman carrying a baby out the front of a locked-down housing towerImage copyright
AFP

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The sudden lockdown came without warning

For many, as news of the confinement spread, alarm and panic followed. An official letter distributed to residents said the lockdown would last for between five and 14 days.

The majority of residents have limited income and come from non-English-speaking backgrounds. Many are migrants – some who arrived as refugees – from African nations, Vietnam and China. There are many young families and pensioners.

in_pictures Sign in the window of a locked-down unit reads: Image copyright
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Residents began to display messages in their windows on Sunday

Premier Andrews described some living in the towers as among the state’s most “vulnerable” people.

in_pictures A man wearing a mask holds his hands up to the window in one of the housing towersImage copyright
Getty Images

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Residents confined to their buildings on Sunday

in_pictures A woman in a window on a mobile phoneImage copyright
Getty Images

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Many residents have been in touch with advocates outside the towers for help

There have been concerns about food, medication and baby formula. State officials have said they will continue to provide essential supplies, but there has been debate over whether this has been sufficient.

In some cases, food parcels were left on doorsteps or in downstairs foyers with no warning.

Outside the buildings, community groups have organised food and supplies.

in_pictures A volunteer helps organise donated food suppliesImage copyright
Getty Images

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Several groups have launched donation drives for food and other aid

in_pictures A line of workers wearing masks deliver government-ordered food supplies to a locked-down housing tower in MelbourneImage copyright
Getty Images

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Thousands of workers are supporting those in lockdown, says the government

Health officials say the lockdown was necessary because the risk of spreading the virus was high in the towers, due to single lifts and narrow common walkways. They are like “vertical cruise ships”, said a senior health official.

However many tenants have felt angry and overwhelmed by how they have been treated.

“So many people found out about it through live TV. There wasn’t the respect and dignity given to people to even be notified,” said Dima Abdu, a student who lives in one of the towers.

She told the BBC: “As soon as the premier announced it, we had police already here telling us we can’t leave. People were hurt and shocked, thinking: ‘Oh what did we do wrong?'”

in_pictures A sign in the window of one of the locked-down units reads: Treat as as humans, not as caged animalsImage copyright

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