Residents and community members who struggled through Melbourne’s public housing lockdown are celebrating after Victorian authorities announced they will relax the severe restrictions on eight of the nine towers.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews ordered without notice on Saturday that residents of the North Melbourne, Flemington and Kensington estates stay confined to their homes amid a spike in COVID-19 cases. The order brought widespread criticism from residents.
Andrews said that after the testing of all 3,000 people in the towers, residents in eight of the high-rise buildings would be allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons, the same rules in force throughout the state, including in residential buildings in the same postcode as some of the public housing estates. The remaining tower at 33 Alfred Street, in North Melbourne, will remain on police-guarded lockdown for nine more days.
“We need to recognise that there might be 20 to 25% of individuals in that particular tower who end up developing coronavirus and potentially more,” Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said of the tower that will remain under a guarded lockdown.
An additional 165 coronavirus cases recorded Thursday brought Victoria’s total active infections to 932. There have been 22 deaths in the state.
Australia has so far recorded about 9,000 infections and 106 deaths.
Other states and territories have recorded few or zero cases in recent weeks and have shut their borders with Victoria in an attempt to keep COVID-19 from spreading.
The relaxation of the rules on the Melbourne public housing estates relieved residents, many of whom have said they had been left without sufficient supplies and were delivered culturally inappropriate and expired food by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
“I can’t keep my kids anymore inside. I can’t... I don’t think I can stay any more here, not allowed even an hour to play outside,” said Amina Yussuf, a Somali Australian mother who lives with her seven children in a two-bedroom apartment in one of the Melbourne towers whose strict lockdown is ending.
Somali Australian writer Najma Sambul posted a video announcement on Twitter from Australian Muslim Social Services Agency (AMSSA) youth worker Abdiqafar on Thursday.
“We did a job that the government couldn’t do.”
“I’m so happy for everyone being here,” he told AMSSA volunteers who have worked for five days straight coordinating a relief effort to get appropriate food donations into the buildings.
“I swear it would never have been possible if it wasn’t for every one of you here today.
“We’re just over the moon. AMSSA says thank you, the community says thank you ― we did a job that the government couldn’t do.”
Others have shared their reactions on social media with a mix of relief and concern for what will happen next:
With additional reporting from Reuters.