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Melbourne

A Melbourne-wide lockdown

When I wrote to you last week my suburb was one of ten postcodes that had been put into lockdown. Numbers of positive cases have continued to grow, and so all of Melbourne has gone back into lockdown. Last time the numbers were mainly from overseas travellers. Disturbingly, this time numbers are from community spread. There has been a huge amount of testing and each positive case has to be traced, and contacts contacted and isolated. It is a mammoth job, requiring personnel from other states.

Our Premier, Dan Andrews, has likened it to a bushfire ~ and we are very familiar with them. There is the front of the fire that has to be brought under control, but we also know that there are spot fires that cannot be allowed to get out of hand.

[Andrews has copped a lot of flack because of the spread from hotel quarantine to security personnel. My friend Meeks points out that others, including the federal Liberal Government, had a big role to play in the outbreak too.]

Borders to other states have been closed. Like everything to do with this pandemic, closing the physical borders with South Australia and New South Wales, has thrown up many associated problems. Along the Murray River, the border between Victoria and NSW, are twin cities and towns. Like Albury and Wodonga; the former is in NSW, the latter in Victoria, but in so many regards they are the one city. People cross the border to work, go to medical and other appointments, visit friends and relatives and all those other things of daily life that we used to take for granted. Now they will need a permit to cross. No surprises to learn that the website approving the permits crashed because of high demand.

However, there has been a far more disturbing development.

A spike of cases has been identified in nine tower blocks of public housing on two separate sites in Flemington and North Melbourne. On Saturday the state government determined that those nine towers go into immediate hard lockdown ~ nobody was able to leave their flats for any reason at all. There was no warning for the 3,000 residents. The first they knew was a massive police presence on the estates, stopping people from leaving their homes.

This must have been so distressing for the tenants. Social housing means that residents have been doing it tough. There are many refugees, recent migrants, unemployed people, culturally and linguistically diverse communities. I can only imagine the trauma they felt when they saw the police on their doorstep. Many had memories of police and army brutality in their birth countries, while over the years policing on the estates has been very heavy handed.

Then it became clear that many issues had not been thought through. The main one was getting food and other essentials to the residents. The community rallied, providing food, meals, sanitary items, kids’ activities and so on. However, there seemed to be a long delay, sometimes days, before the food was able to get to people. Early on delivery was of culturally inappropriate food, food that was out of date or missing basics like nappies or milk. I don’t know why it was not possible for the food that was literally at the bottom of the towers to get to the residents. I am hoping that these supply chains have been built and that people are getting what they need.

I understand that public health action was needed. However it needed a public health response and not a policing one. If there had been a smaller police presence and a greater nursing/social worker/interpreter/community leader presence the anxiety of residents would have been minimised. It was always going to be difficult to ask people to not leave their home for at least 5 days, but I think the government created so many more difficulties by not communicating effectively, in as many languages as necessary.

I don’t want to give the impression that residents have been ignoring the public health advice. I am sure they abided by restriction in the previous lockdown. The problem is the conditions where they live ~ conditions, like small flats and lifts, that they have no control over.

However, this outbreak in the tower blocks has exposed so much more about the deep problem we have with our social housing, which is our lack of decent social housing.

These tower blocks were built in the 60’s, and there are a number dotted around Melbourne. They have never been the answer to public housing. The flats are small, with poor ventilation, and probably little maintenance, much less upgrade in those years. There are two small lifts in each block, expected to carry everyone up and down twenty stories. No surprise that they often break down.

Into these we put our most vulnerable citizens. People who usually have no ‘fat’ ~ no well stocked pantries, no extra in their bank accounts, little superannuation to draw on, no sick leave. Often jobs that are casual and/or precarious or in industries that can’t work from home. And no space. Such as a family with seven children in a two-bedroomed flat, where the girls sleep in one room, the boys in another, Mum and Dad sleep in the lounge room. There are many single parent families. Families could be multigenerational, which increases the likelihood of co-morbidities.

It is no wonder that we are seeing positive cases on the rise here. This virus is showing us the cracks in our society. It thrives where people are vulnerable, where they can’t distance, where they have to use communal spaces. We see this time and again around the world.

So, surely it is our job as a compassionate society to make make life as safe as possible for everyone. I hope the lessons from here are being applied in the other tower blocks. That hand sanitiser is freely available on all floors, in lifts, at entrances, and that it is replaced when it runs out. That all communal areas, especially lifts, are cleaned regularly and deeply. That the communication is ramped up, and provided in all languages necessary. That residents are involved, as this is their home. That community leaders are involved as well.

Residents in these tower blocks are not ‘other’, not ‘them. They are us, they are part of our vibrant community. And what an amazing job they have done. They have been at the front of this bushfire coronavirus, battling to help protect all of us.

32 replies on “A Melbourne-wide lockdown”

This is the first I’ve heard of the new situation in Melbourne and it must have been a horrendous experience for the residents of the tower blocks when the police suddenly arrived and then the realisation that they couldn’t get out to replenish essential supplies. As you say, hopefully lessons have been learned for any future necessary lockdowns but when leadership fails it’s encouraging to see the community step forward and take practical action.

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The community response was the only heartening thing. The not-for-profits that were trying to get food into the towers were overwhelmed with donations. However, it is the way during disasters…people’s generosity comes to the front.

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I am glad I have been able to do that Dawn. It has taken me time to gain some clarity, as my first reaction was distress. And if that was my first reaction I can only imagine what the residents were experiencing.
However, this is a scenario that plays out wherever vulnerable people are. If we are going to get any sort of control over the virus we need to create safer places for everyone.

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I sat and screamed at the TV when some princess raved on about how the lockdown was unconstitutional and she objected, and it was deplorable and “we the people” wouldn’t stand for it. She stood there with her recently ‘done’ hair, her Botoxed face and her designer handbag, and I thought how little justified were her complaints and how much more cause the residents of the tower blocks had. This disease is democratic; it takes the rich and the poor, and the measure of us as people will be in how much grace we show as we fight it. Will we hold out hands to others, or will we scream and complain because we can’t get our nails done? Will we feel pain at the pain of others, or pretend that they ‘deserve’ it because they are poor, desperate, ignorant or alone? It’s easy to say the government ‘should’ do this or that, but I suspect that faced with the same logistical problems, we too would make mistakes. I forgive them their mistakes, but want them to learn from it and do better going forward.

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Well said, Kate! The sense of ‘we are all in this together’ is fraying. Some in Melbourne are complaining because it is not in their suburb. However, the majority of people seem to be very accepting of the need for more lockdown. It is frustrating, but we have seen the mass graves in Central Park.
Your princess comment gave me an extra smile. I was interviewed by 7 News the other day, and I was definitely not a princess! No recent hairdresser trip, no designer handbag and certainly no botox! And my views sounded a little different to hers 😉

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I imagine they would have. I can’t imagine you spouting nonsense about unconstitutional and deprivation of liberty and tossing your hair when people are falling like flies! People like that are the first to complain if they get sick that “the government should have done something”…

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I had only a vague awareness of the situation in Melbourne and no idea of the strict lockdown. You write about it so well and clearly. At one point we lived on the edge of an area where many of old, but fairly large, houses had been turned into bedsits and flats. Most of the tenants were young or disadvantaged and lacked the skills to form community. Others saw themselves as temporary even if they would actually struggle to move on to somewhere better. They were unlikely to invest in community even if they had the skills. It was left to the outsiders, the government agencies and groups like churches or mosques to try to fill the gap and encourage community where possible. I understand why the government panicked but often people who are well educated and comfortably off are like Marie Antoinette – let them eat cake! I sometimes wish all politicians were required to live on benefits in social housing for a month or two as part of their induction to the job!

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One of the early measures taken by the federal government was to double the rate of our unemployment payment, now called the Job Seeker Payment. It was horrendously low ~ $40 a day. Now people say that they can afford to buy fresh vegetables and get some of their outstanding bills paid off. The government is talking about reducing the rate again in a couple of months. So I agree Sue….all politicians should have to live in these conditions for a while. The old adage ‘walk a mile in my shoes’ is so appropriate.

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So well explained and thought out Anne. Shocking situation, and there are so many cracks opening up in social care and wellbeing. You are so right that the covid pandemic is highlighting them.

Well, here in Scotland the lifting of restrictions has been very slow, but shops etc will be opening fully now, face masks mandatory in shops – should be interesting if people abide by this. Yet over the Border in England (where my mother and sister are) there are more freedoms with pubs opening etc, and already more positive cases have been logged because of the easing. One town is also in full lockdown now with people not to cross the border (wherever the border is!) I’m due to visit my mum and sis who live in a more built up area than myself, to help with house maintainence/jobs. This will be my first visit since our UK lockdown and I’m a little apprehensive about social distancing there not being adhered to because of a new one metre apart rule, which is ludicrous. It seems to be accepted that there will be more waves (more bushfires), but there is a feeling of nonchalent inevitability about it I’m not comfortable with.

Stay safe, Anne, and thank you for this post and letting us know what is happening there.

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It really is difficult, Lynne. We all have to make decisions about what is in the best interests of us and those we love, as well as the wide world. In some ways it makes going back into lockdown comforting, because it is very clear what the rules are. I agree with you about lessening the distance to 1 metre, as scientifically it is not enough. I hope you are able to safely negotiate life with your family ~ wear the mask, maintain the distance and hand hygiene. Stay safe.

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What a great piece of writing, Anne! You are a fine journalist, capturing the facts, and yet encouraging us to look deep and respond as a community to what is going on in our own neighborhood, while exposing the issue at hand.

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Aww, Kathy, that is a very nice thing to say. Actually, for my own piece of mind, it was one of those posts that I had to write. It had been whirling around in my head, and I had to get it down on ‘paper’. I am glad I was able to convey what I am feeling.

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This is a beautiful post, Anne. I suspect the authorities believed that voluntary lockdown wouldn’t work. Much of that is profiling, which shouldn’t happen at the best of times, and ignorance. It should have been done so much better, but…at least our tower people won’t become casualties of a heartless experiment like the migrant communities in Sweden.
We have to do better as a society, for all our sakes. -hugs-

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You are right Meeks, this is a much better health outcome than the Swedish ‘model’. The other side is that it has exposed the dire straights that our public housing system is in. Maybe, just maybe, there will be longer term action taken.

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I hope so, Anne, I really hope so. I know those flats are better than sleeping rough, but they’re horrible places and serve only to set the residents apart. We have to do better.
Btw did you notice that masks and mask wearing are suddenly being talked about on the ABC? I almost fell off my chair.

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Thank you for the glimpse into what is going on in your country. With our eyes and ears set to US news I have heard literally nothing of the spread in other countries lately. A reminder we are in this together.

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The news from the US is pretty dire, so I can understand how it is all consuming. We are all in this together, from the small neighbourhood level through to the global. Everyone must be able to be in a safe spot. Stay well Sharon.

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over the ditch in New Zealand – and during the Level 4 lockdown the charities and the council got their act together real quick to provide for those at the lower end of society. The council took over the Vector indoor arena, a very, very large entertainment space – set it up like a factory and made dam sure everyone had food on the table… many of those who lived in a lower decile areas, often ate takeaways but these premises were closed. Regularly you saw (news) people from say a church/similar organisation delivering food parcels OR knocking on doors, inquiring to many elderly people about their needs…often a hot meal every night!

I remember one newscast and the guy said that he too was in need…but for repayment in kind, he was determined to help others…especially since he now had no job and a lot of time on his hands…

I wonder how Melbourne blocks survived in the first lock-down… surely there was a similar system to ours above…which although, ours has now ceased this huge operation, it would be relatively easy I guess to re-set it up…

however, we have always had “food parcel” groups as there have plenty of times where life is very tough…especially when you live in a city like mine. Rents are through the roof, employment may not be easy to obtain and then there is that ghastly raft of poorly structured housing. I know they are still operating in different areas, there’s a big Friday one locally at the community centre…and others.

As for you Anne, I know you will take care of you and yours…and stay safe. Virtual hugs from me…

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What a great response, Catherine. We need to bring everybody along. New Zealand continues to be a shining example in this pandemic as well as in many other areas.
It is an interesting question about what happened the first time around. I am sure the residents willingly stayed indoors, but we could (and can this time around) go out for exercise, food, medical care and work/education. That would have given more respite, less anxiety. However there must have been the same issues with lack of hand sanitiser, cleaning of communal areas and so on. But then last time we had less community spread…..

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aaaaah…yes you could still go out for essential supplies, but did these people have the funds to do that!

Maybe, they never went to a mainstream supermarket. Here only such food places were open with bulk of the shopping. And the supplies weren’t always on the shelves, not just the dreaded TP fiasco. I know that some of my staples I can’t even get via my mainstream supermarket, I have to go some place else…

and when you talk about the ethnic groupings in these social housing complexes, I would suspect that some of their food supplies aren’t even going to be on the bottom shelf…I don’t think I’ve ever seen “taro” on said shelves.

… but so many who are that “edge of society” probably nearly always relied on the food parcel stream with cheap takeaways to keep afloat. Some of the these areas also had large Sunday markets where you could buy the kind of foods you liked, cheaply. So if the usual places didn’t function, your choices would be limited…

rant over!

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Thanks for sharing what is going on in your side of the pond Anne. My heart hurt and tears filled my eyes when I read about the towers lockdown and imagined what the residents must be enduring. I so appreciate your excellent writing and reporting!

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It was distressing to see the news footage, Tierney. The good news update is that residents in eight of the nine towers have been allowed to move out of hard lockdown. Now they can go out for the four reasons like the rest of Melbourne. Unfortunately the ninth tower is in quarantine for a fortnight as everyone is either positive or a close contact of someone who is. It seems like they are being well supported.

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I’m heartened to read your words as much as I am disheartened by the need for them to be expressed. When will people realise there is no Them… We are all in this life together, especially in these Covid times. At times I want for my own sanity to bury in head in the sand, and stay home in my bubble. But, I have never watched the TV news so much in my life… nightly watching SBS means we can never be under the illusion that what matters is that we -ourselves- are ok and compassion for others unnecessary. Until everyone is ok, no-one is. It isn’t easy to stay positive, keep anxiety and frustration at bay… but giving in to it and its cause will accomplish nothing. And I’m sorry not sorry to say I have become so blunt when confronted with rubbish opinions… I simply have no time for the willfully illinformed and selfish. Take care ♡

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You are so right about the news, Dale. I absorb whatever I can, including Dr John Campbell’s regular updates via Youtube. I have also become a press conference junkie, trying to catch Daniel Andrew’s daily updates. I find the confidence and assertiveness he and Brett Sutton (Chief Health Officer) show to be rather reassuring.
We are in this together, and I am flabbergasted by those that refuse to believe it will infect them or someone they love.

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My heart goes out to those people in the public housing towers … I cannot imagine being told I must stay in my apartment, cannot even shop for food, and seeing police ready to stop me if I should try to go out. As you say, most people living in these towers are not wealthy and often live from day to day, likely did not have a supply of food stockpiled. Here, so many are whining and complaining about such things as not being able to sit in a bar, or play on the beach … yet nobody in the nation has been prohibited from buying food or other essentials. On the other hand … look at our current statistics … the virus is a wildfire that is burning out of control, and the people to stubborn to even pour a bit of water on it. Sigh. Keep safe, my friend. ❤

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It was a very drastic measure, but one that had to be taken. The good news is that the residents of eight of the nine towers have moved from hard lockdown to having the same restrictions as the rest of us. Unfortunately the ninth tower is in quarantine for a fortnight as all residents are deemed to be either positive or a close contact of someone who is. I understand that they are being supported through this difficult time.
It does make me realise, again, how fortunate I am to have the financial and other supports at the moment, and that those I love are safe and well. There are millions around the world that cannot say the same. You stay well too, Jill. xxx

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I’m so glad people helped out, for what’s the point in saving people from the virus if they die in their apartment for lack of food or medicine! Yes, we both have much to be thankful for … I try not to complain about not being able to go out to eat, or to the book store, for … how shallow is that? Still, sometimes I just wish this could all be over. I suspect it won’t be for a long time. Hugs!

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[…] Last time I wrote I was settling back into Stage 3 lockdown. Unfortunately case numbers in Melbourne are not flattening, and there is talk about going into Stage 4. That will be a new world, because things weren’t that strict last time around. However, we have to get the numbers down. […]

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CV19 springs up where ever there is poor working & living conditions, it is clear. We have had outbreaks in meat processing plants, fruit farms and in clothing factories. The later carried on through lockdown (not illegal apparently) but there was no social distancing and people were told to carry on working even when sick. I made a comment on later post of yours (I read them in reverse order) and I think you answered my question in this post.

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