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As WA slowly eases restrictions amongst a seemingly under-control COVID situation, Victoria is heading in the opposite direction. As new cases regularly top 100+ per day, Premier Daniel Andrews has announced new lock downs of certain suburbs. However, a somewhat more troubling story has emerged from nine council housing towers.

towers

These council housing blocks located in Flemington, North Melbourne, and Kensington. On Sunday, officials has detected 23 cases of COVID-19 across the nine towers. Now, over 3,000 residents are under hard lockdown. Simon Creek, our resident social commentator extraordinaire, joined Jeziel on Drive to discuss why this is such a big deal.

“Like vertical cruise ships”

The story of council housing towers in Melbourne goes back almost 70 years. In an effort to support low income residents, the Housing Commission of Victoria constructed 47 high rise housing towers. The towers are made from the same low-cost, pre-cast concrete. Usually between 20 and 30 stories tall. Crucially, these towers often have shared laundry and household waste services, with a tremendous potential for community spread of COVID-19.

In this regard, people are comparing them to a vertical cruise ship. Hundreds, if not thousands of residents, closely packed, with no easy way to self-isolate. We all know the Ruby Princess caused so much trouble for NSW. Similarly these housing blocks are a major hurdle for Victoria.

Full lock down

The residents in these towers are now under some of the most extreme lock down measures yet. While it’s allowable for other residents in these suburbs to leave their homes for work or school, tower residents cannot leave for any reason. This measure will continue for at least 5 days or until authorities have tested every resident. This is fairly similar to lock downs imposed on quarantine hotels and aged care homes, as well as those implemented in New York, China and Europe.

One of the main issues being raised from this situation is the way authorities are handling it, and whether there’s appropriate support. Over 500 police officers are enforcing the rules, with one stationed on each floor. Meanwhile, the Victorian Government has assured citizens that every resident will be provided with food, supplies and drug and alcohol addiction support.

Good for many, bad for a few

Simon notes that one discussion that has come about from this saga is the idea of inconveniencing a few, for the benefit of many. The rules put in place are all allowed under the emergency laws concerning Coronavirus. So while what’s happening is technically legal, and possibly necessary, is it really the best option?

While it’s clear that some steps do need to be taken to contain the spread of COVID-19, a blanket approach may not be appropriate. Simon’s biggest concern as a family lawyer is a possible rise in mental illness, domestic violence and family breakdowns. Additionally, many of these residents come from war torn nations, or from violent backgrounds, and the promised government support for these people has apparently not eventuated.

What else is there to do?

Many people are now asking whether there would be a better way to manage this situation. Unfortunately, while mistakes may have been made in the planning and preparation of this measure, it may be the only achievable option. The best option available now to both the residents and the government, is for promises to be delivered on. The support that is needed must be provided to ensure that an uncomfortable situation for these residents doesn’t become outright unsafe or dangerous.

What can we do?

Luckily for us, all it takes is a simple web search to find a great list of charities. The Melbourne Trades Hall Council has succeeded in raising over $200,000, and many other organisations are taking donations.

To hear all of Simon’s update on the Melbourne council towers situation, check out the podcast below:

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