News Coronavirus Victoria’s towers lockdown ends, but COVID-19 concerns aren’t fading

Victoria’s towers lockdown ends, but COVID-19 concerns aren’t fading

Donations from as far as Perth were made for people placed in lockdown in public housing towers in the suburb of North Melbourne. Photo: ABC/Simon Winter
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The final Melbourne public housing tower has been released from strict coronavirus quarantine, but tenant Dima Abdu says residents will continue playing it safe and mainly remain in their units.

A fortnight after they were placed under “hard lockdown” alongside eight other public housing estates, residents of 33 Alfred Street, North Melbourne, returned to the same restrictions as the rest of the city overnight on Saturday.

The nine towers were shut down due to a concerning rise in COVID-19 infections, which had health officials concerned about the “explosive potential” for the virus to spread in the blocks.

Free at last to rejoin the rest of Melbourne, Dima Abdu wears a cautious smile. Photo: ABC

Eight of the estates returned to stage three stay-at-home orders on July 9, but a worrying number of cases at Alfred Street saw the restrictions extended.

Residents have only been allowed to leave for medical or compassionate reasons or for police-monitored exercise.

“There’s a sense of relief,” said Ms Abdu, a biomedical science student.

“I think the cabin fever was really, really setting in.”

Now, those who have returned a negative coronavirus test can leave for the same four reasons as the rest of metropolitan Melbourne: Shopping for essential supplies, exercise, medical care or caregiving and work or education where it cannot be done from home.

“I think that people who really need to get out will be getting out, so people who need to see specialist doctors, people who need to go to their appointments, get their medication,” Ms Abdu said.

But Ms Abdu said from her conversations, most people would just “play it safe and stay in”.

“We’re more focused on … staying safe for us and the whole community,” she said.

After being sealed off from the world, these tower residents are now on an equal footing with their fellow Victorians. Photo: ABC/Dan Harrison

At least 100 Alfred Street residents, or about a third of those living in the tower, have either contracted COVID-19 or are the close contacts of positive cases.

“We will continue to provide groceries, perishable food, cooked meals. We will continue to provide all the basics that those residents need,” Premier Daniel Andrews said on Saturday.

Those people will not be allowed to leave their units except for a small number of urgent exemptions, or to be moved to hotel quarantine.

The same rules apply to positive cases and their close contacts across Victoria.

From bad to worse

When the lockdown was first imposed on the nine towers, only 12 suburbs were under stage three’s stay-at-home orders.

Now, the entirety of metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire is covered by the restrictions.

And the number of coronavirus cases in Victoria has jumped dramatically in the past fortnight, rising from 2469 on the first day of the tower lockdown to 5696 as of Sunday morning.

The rate of community transmission has soared as the state has recorded day after day of record-high coronavirus numbers.

By Saturday, there had been 286 cases of coronavirus detected across the nine Flemington and North Melbourne towers.

“Investigations are continuing into how these cases are linked,” the Department of Health and Human Services said.

Investigations are also continuing into a rise in cases connected to similar public housing towers in Carlton, on the other side of Melbourne’s CBD, which are now linked to 48 infections.

The Victorian ombudsman has launched an investigation into the tower lockdowns, looking at the conditions of the detention order, the communication with residents and the appropriateness of the restrictions.

Ms Abdu said while most residents had no issues with the hard lockdown itself, it seemed to her “communication, respect as a community was not there”.

“But I think everyone’s going to use this to reflect and possibly fill in the gaps,” she said.