Victorian Ombudsman opens investigation into Melbourne public housing tower lockdown

The Victorian Ombudsman is investigating the detaining of residents of a North Melbourne public housing building.

General view of the public housing tower in North Melbourne, Wednesday, July 8, 2020.

General view of the public housing tower in North Melbourne, Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Source: AAP

The treatment of Melbourne public housing residents locked up in their homes by the government due to coronavirus is being investigated by Victoria's Ombudsman.

Residents of 33 Alfred Street in North Melbourne have been in lockdown for nearly a fortnight, guarded by a large police presence and reports of food going undelivered.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass says her office has been contacted by more than 50 people, including public housing residents, advocacy groups and the wider Victorian community.

Ms Glass says her investigation will consider the conditions under which people have been detained at the tower, the nature and accessibility of official communications with residents, and the nature and appropriateness of restrictions upon people's access to fresh air, exercise, medical care and medical supplies.

As of Thursday, there were 250 coronavirus cases linked to the public housing towers in North Melbourne and Flemington.

The Alfred Street tower was one of nine in those areas to be put into a strict lockdown from 4 to 9 July.

Eight of the towers have reverted to stage three restrictions with the rest of Melbourne, while residents of Alfred Street remain in self-quarantine after it recorded more cases than the other buildings.

Ms Glass said during a global health emergency governments had to act swiftly to save lives, but not at the cost of basic human rights.

"People on the front line are doing an extraordinary job to respond to this crisis and help keep us safe.

"However, there are lessons to be learnt in how governments can do that in a way that protects people's human rights, including access to fresh air, exercise and medical supplies," she said.

Ms Glass added any resident with concerns about their situation can contact her office.

Police are seen outside the Alfred Street public housing tower which remains under tight lockdown in North Melbourne, Saturday, July 11, 2020
Source: AAP

The investigation comes as Victoria on Thursday reached its highest daily number of COVID-19 cases after one week of the new lockdown to bring the coronavirus under control, with 317 new cases.

It marked Australia's biggest daily increase since the start of the pandemic.

Two men in their 80s also succumbed to the disease on Wednesday, bringing the total number of deaths in Victoria to 29 and the national toll to 113.

Metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire have been in stage three lockdown for a week and are expected to remain under those conditions until 19 August.

Under stage three restrictions people in the locked-down areas are allowed to leave their homes to buy food and supplies, care and caregiving, go to work or school if they cannot do so from home, and exercise.

The government has clarified that people cannot travel for exercise, stating that driving across the city to a favourite walking track is not allowed and people must exercise within their neighbourhoods.

Residents in metropolitan Melbourne are subject to stay-at-home orders and can only leave home for essential work, study, exercise or care responsibilities. People are also advised to wear masks in public.

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

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

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Published 17 July 2020 at 10:38am
Source: AAP -SBS