Public Housing Management Calls Melbourne, Australia Tower Lockdowns ‘Ham-Fisted’

July 5, 2020 Updated: July 6, 2020

Thousands of residents locked in Melbourne’s public housing estates said they have not received proper food deliveries as concerns loom over the sudden quarantine across nine tower blocks in the city’s north.

The Victorian Public Tenants Association (VPTA) said that the more than 3,000 tenants were unprepared for the state government’s lockdown and many did not have enough groceries and supplies.

“It was just done in a pretty ham-fisted manner,” VPTA executive officer Mark Feenane told Nine’s Today Show on July 6.

“Saying that you’re in immediate lockdown gave them no time to buy whatever essential items they needed, and this was different from how other lockdowns had been treated with people being told when it would apply,” he said.

Melbourne COVID-19
A sign is stuck to a window reading ‘Treat us as humans, not caged animals’ and ‘End this lockdown effective immediately’ at the Flemington Public housing flats in Melbourne, Australia, on July 5, 2020. (Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

“Some think they’re kinda being discriminated against,” he added.

“You kind of wonder what the reaction would have been if this had been done in a private high-rise in Docklands … would they just give people no notice? What will the reaction be?” Feenane said.

Police are guarding every entrance of the housing estates, and residents are not allowed to leave their homes for any reason for at least five days.

The hard lockdown was imposed on July 4 in a bid to contain a COVID-19 outbreak after 27 people in the North Melbourne, and Flemington towers tested positive.

The government will deliver food and medical supplies to residents, provide a $1,500 hardship payment to those who cannot go to work, and pay $750 each to those not in the workforce.

According to Feenane, while he understands measures are needed, there was still a lack of clarity around specific issues: “How will we know if this exercise has been a success or failure, and what are the criteria for five days? Or extending it to 14 days or beyond?”

“That is not clear to me, and that is not clear to tenants,” he said.

Sikh Community Helps Residents in Tower Lockdown

Father of five, Abdirahman Ibrahim, told AAP on July 5 that his Racecourse Road building in Flemington had not received any groceries yet.

However, Sikh community volunteers had delivered cooked food in containers.

Sikh Volunteers Australia Vice-President Manpreet Singh said they had bought 650 serves of fresh vegetarian meals from their Cranbourne base.

“Nearly 400 meals we have already served (by about 7 pm),” he said on July 5. “We are staying here overnight.”

Tower block resident Thana Sirag told AAP her family had not received a care box or food. Another resident who identifies himself as Amr Osmanon Twitter wrote on July 5 that tower residents were not aware of when food was going to be given to them.

He published a video showing the contents of a food box with the caption: “This is wat they have just given us a lot of people in the building hv no idea that food has been provided and there not dropping stuff off at the door u have to go downstairs and grab it urself no milk no bread #free9towers.”

The video shows someone inspecting a food box and showing two jars of jam, a packet of white sugar, a packet of plain flour, a packet of tea, a can of creamy tomato soup, tins of tuna, a packet of pasta, wheat bix, and other items.

Residents were given copies of public health orders on Sunday night, sparking confusion the lockdown could be extended to 14 days.

Premier Daniel Andrews said on July 4 that there was a minimum lockdown of five days, but the orders allow authorities to extend this to 14 if people refuse a COVID-19 test.

In recent weeks, Victoria has seen a surge of virus infections with 127 new cases reported on July 6.

Outbreaks have occurred across multiple Melbourne suburbs, with 12 Victorian postcode areas currently placed under stage three lockdown until July 29.