Melbourne's public housing tenants voice concerns about 'prison-like' lockdown conditions

Anisa Ali (left) and Hana Ibrahim (right) are among the public housing tenants now facing a drastic five-day total lockdown. Source: Supplied

Two residents of public housing towers placed in total lockdown by the Victorian state government tell SBS News of their fears.

Public housing tenants stuck in the middle of an unprecedented Melbourne coronavirus lockdown have likened the experience to being trapped in a cramped prison cell. 

More than 3000 tenants are living under police guard as Victoria uses a total lockdown of nine public housing towers to try halt the spread of the virus.

Anisa Ali was totally unprepared for the drastic measures and said there was little indication of what was to come.

“I found out at the same time as everyone else, there was no prior warning, no time to prepare,” the 24-year-old told SBS News.

She lives in one of the nine Melbourne public housing towers now placed under a complete lockdown for at least the next five days.

Anisa Ali lives in the North Melbourne towers with her mother and younger brother.
Anisa Ali lives in the North Melbourne towers with her mother and younger brother.
Supplied

Living with her mum and her 10-year-old brother in one of the North Melbourne public housing towers, she said she was concerned about her own mental health and the health of her neighbours in the towers.

“A lot of us are really low on vitamin D and not having that sunlight and getting a walk in, it can be quite bad for your mental and physical health, so I’m quite concerned for a lot of people in this building. How they are going to cope?” she said.

Ms Ali said she felt as if her community was being scapegoated for the coronavirus spike in Melbourne and questioned why other residents of her suburb were still allowed to leave their homes.

“We are literally trapped in our flats as if it were a prison cell. It’s quite inhumane and it’s quite unfair,” she added.

Nine public housing towers have been placed in total lockdown.
Nine public housing towers have been placed in total lockdown.
Supplied

Similarly Hana Ibrahim, a resident of one of the Flemington towers placed in lockdown, said she was worried about the lack of support and information being offered by the government.  

“Why are there so many police here, why are they guarding us?” she asked.  

She lives in the apartment with her elderly parents and her two-year-old son - and is worried about her son not being able to play outside.

Hana Ibrahim lives in the Flemington towers with her parents and two year old son.
Hana Ibrahim lives in the Flemington towers with her parents and two year old son.
Supplied

“To be honest the way it’s done is not fair, we were not given enough time. Not given enough information, until today no one has come to knock on the door and tell them (the residents) what is going on. It’s just TV and some people don’t have TVs in their apartments,” she said.

Ms Ali said as of midday on Sunday there had been no professionals or officials coming to her door offering them information about what was going on or any support.

“They put this lockdown on super quick and there was no preparation that they did themselves,” she said.

“This is totally unfair, we are the only ones under total lockdown, there has been nothing given to us at all,” she added.

Premier defends drastic decision

Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday thanked everyone who has been affected by the government's drastic measures. 

"This is not about punishment but protection. We cannot have this virus spread," he told reporters.  

"We have to do everything we can to contain the virus and that is why staying in your unit, staying in your flat, is absolutely essential."

Victoria recorded 74 new coronavirus infections on Sunday and 108 new cases on Saturday. 

Mr Andrews said things would get worse before they got better. 

"I remain concerned by big numbers like we have seen even today, even though it is down on yesterday, I don't think we have turned the corner yet," he told reporters. 

"I think we can see other big days ahead of us, especially as we ramp up testing and focus on those areas that we know are at risk, including these towers."

The alarming surge in Victoria's coronavirus cases has prompted an emergency meeting of medical officials from around Australia and an unprecedented lockdown of nine Melbourne public housing towers.

Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday announced additional support measures for those stuck in the lockdown. 

The affected public housing tenants will not be charged rent for the next two weeks.

Tenants who are employed will also receive a $1500 hardship payment to compensate for missing work, while tenants who are unemployed will receive a $750 hardship payment. 

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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