On Saturday Daniel Andrews announced a complete lockdown of nine public housing high-rise flats. Residents are not allowed to leave for any reason. When I first heard the news I was worried about the practical implications of this extreme lockdown, I was concerned about things that I hadn’t heard addressed through government statements or media – things that if not addressed would be horrible for residents. Since then a lot of information has come to light and it’s worse than I had feared.
It doesn’t matter what you think about the lockdown. Was it justified? Was it necessary? Arguments can be made both ways. But what can not be debated is the way in which this has been carried out. This was a huge operation, organisation was paramount. The implementation of it needed to be done with the utmost respect for the residents. All I see is mess.
1) The massive police presence was completely unnecessary. If a police presence was indeed required it should have been kept to a minimum. If there was any doubt that residents were looked upon as criminals, this pretty much eliminated it. What crime did they commit that made them deserving of this? If this was about infection control and the welfare of residents, then surely, we would see more medical personnel and less police.
Imagine having your home surrounded by police – flashing lights and all – and being told that you can’t leave. Imagine the impact this will have on children. Additionally, a large portion of residents in these flats came to Australia as refugees. Many have suffered greatly at the hands of police in their countries of origin. What impact will this have on them?
And if we had so many police officers to spare why were they not used at hotel quarantines, which at the time was by far the greatest source of new infections? Perhaps if they were, we wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with.
2) Unlike every other lockdown, these residents were not given the courtesy of time to prepare. What this meant for many is that they do not have their basic needs. Not just food, but things like medication, nappies, formula…things that are specific and urgent. A number was circulated yesterday for residents to contact for such needs. The reports I have seen indicate that not only is the number engaged most of the time but that people were not seeing any results from contacting them. I imagine that some have received their needs, but clearly, not enough is being done.
3) Photos were circulating last night of food that people received. Boxes of non-perishables were unusual, including things like tuna and jam without bread and weet-bix without milk. In a manner consistent with the treatment of criminals, frozen dinners were placed directly on the floor in front of doors. But unlike prison inmates, they were not even given the courtesy of a tray. Now I’m no infectious disease expert, but I’m pretty sure this is not the most hygienic practice. Especially troubling when we consider that the whole reason they are forced to stay home is to prevent covid-19 from spreading.
Also, regarding the food, from the evidence I have seen the provided, food did not always cater to the number of residents in each flat. I saw one meal that was meant to feed a family of 6, it barely looked enough for two people. Additionally, meals were not always distributed in a timely manner, with one resident reportedly receiving their meal at 11:30pm.
If you are going to force residents in their homes for a period of time without the means to provide for their families, you have to make sure you provide them with their needs in an organised and timely manner, and you have to show the utmost respect for residents who are having their freedoms curtailed. The government has failed on both counts – dismally.
I have no doubt that had these flats been luxury apartments that things would have been done very differently. Could you even imagine such a police presence in front of those apartments? Could you imagine frozen meals thrown in front of their doors, similar to how they cater for animals in the zoo? I very much doubt that they would ever put luxury apartments under complete lockdown, but if they did, I can pretty much guarantee that they would treat them with the utmost dignity and respect.
A lot of people are happy to give the government the benefit of the doubt. “They must have the right intentions” and I’m sure on some level they do. But why are the tough decisions always made in relation to those with low socioeconomic status? Why do the double standards, heavy-handed approach and extreme measures never begin with the privileged? We speak of the need to make the tough decisions, the need to show courage. It’s not courage if you only flex your muscle against those that are most vulnerable. When the group we expect to make the greatest sacrifice are those that struggle the most.
I admit I have always harboured a distrust of the government – their priorities and agendas have often left me disappointed. But I sincerely believed that in our lockdowns the government would never leave people unable to meet their basic needs. Suddenly the panic buyers aren’t looking so ridiculous anymore.
It is said that you can judge a society by how well they treat their most vulnerable. If that is the case, we should be ashamed of ourselves.