Australia

Chief Medical Officer backs Victoria’s lockdown of ‘vertical cruise ship’ towers

People ride past police patrols outside public housing towers on Racecourse Road in Flemington, Melbourne, Sunday, 5 July, 2020. Source: AAP

Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has backed the Victorian government’s harsh “hard lockdown” of public housing towers.

Australia's Acting Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, has offered his support for Victoria’s total lockdown of nine public housing towers, saying drastic measures are necessary to control the spread of coronavirus.

"Those towers have a large concentration of people in a small area. They are vertical cruise ships in a way and so we have to take particular notice and particular attention to make sure the spread is minimised and people are protected," he told reporters in Canberra on Sunday.

He said all other states and territories have agreed to provide any support requested by Victoria as it battles a spike in COVID-19 cases and said much support had already arrived in the state.

"We have not seen this level of community transmission during this pandemic in Australia. We have seen it in other countries and so the proportionate and appropriate public health action, which has to be taken right now and supported by all of us, has been done,” Mr Kelly said.

The comments come amidst concerns raised from domestic violence services and legal groups about the health and safety of residents in the towers during the hard lockdown.

Domestic Violence Victoria said women, children and vulnerable people living with family violence in the estates must be allowed to seek support and leave, if their safety is at risk.

A sign is seen on a window at one of the public housing towers on Racecourse Road in Flemington, Melbourne.
A sign is seen on a window at one of the public housing towers on Racecourse Road in Flemington, Melbourne.
AAP

The Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre said in a statement that it was "extremely concerned" about the hard lockdown. 

"Residents are reporting confusion, fear, anxiety and tonight have been navigating contradictory directions from police and authorities as they try to prepare for a sudden five-day highly restrictive lock down," the legal centre said on Saturday night. 

"We have long called for health responses that centre care and wellbeing, not punitive responses that will result in further harms," they said.

There has also been some criticism of the lack of in-language support being offered to the tower’s many residents from non-English speaking backgrounds.

The Victorian Premier defended his government’s handling of the situation in a statement.

"A range of services are already available on the ground across the estates, with the Victorian Multicultural Commission actively engaging community leaders, issuing messages to its distribution network and playing a key role as the liaison point for community coordination," he said.

"Translators are onsite and will be doorknocking to help explain the directions and understand the individual assistance tenants might need. In order to support residents, the Government will provide food and essential supplies, health care and mental health services," he added.

"Deliveries of activity boxes for kids including crayons, Lego and puzzle books have already begun. A dedicated hotline has also been established to make sure help is available when and where it’s needed."

Meanwhile, Professor Kelly said that the mandatory use of face masks was being considered for hotspot areas in the state, with Victoria to make an announcement "in the coming days".

"Wearing masks that are not of the right grade can actually be dangerous. You can actually be more likely to get an infection in the respiratory tract, so masks are not without their problems and they need to be used properly," he said.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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