Fear and conspiracy theories are spreading through the Victorian public housing towers under “hard” lockdown as residents eye officials with suspicion.
About 3000 people have been confined to nine Melbourne public housing towers since Saturday afternoon after a spike in coronavirus cases was linked to some apartments.
By early Thursday, the Victorian government was suggesting all of the residents would have been tested by morning and that results were imminent.
But that was inconsistent with reports from some residents who said there had been hesitation to get tested.
Two new coronavirus cases were linked to the towers on Wednesday – located across North Melbourne and Flemington – bringing the total outbreak to 75.
The lockdown orders are in place for 14 days but it could be stopped early, allowing residents to be under the same stage three rules as the rest of Melbourne, depending on the results of the massive testing drive.
“The testing will be completed tonight. We will have those results by tomorrow and will let you know what they mean for you,” the health department said in a statement late on Wednesday night.
“Until we have those results and develop a clear plan to support anyone who tests positive or is a close contact, you will need to remain in your home.”
Despite having a dedicated laboratory to process tests for those in the towers, not all residents have got their results back.
Father-of-five Abdiraham Ibrahim said he had been waiting since Monday for his coronavirus test result despite his wife’s already having come back negative.
“Some other people are waiting four days for the results,” he told AAP.
Catherine*, a resident in North Melbourne’s Canning Street flats, told The New Daily there had been a growing mistrust of the government – including whether the testing was safe.
“Neighbours are saying if they’re locking us in here for no valid reason and refusing family members to give us our culturally appropriate food, then why are they forcing us to eat their food?” Catherine said.
“We can’t trust what they’re giving us. They created that fear in our head so now we’re too scared to eat.
“Some people are thinking, what if they’ve injected stuff in the fruit and veggies?”
The sudden hard lockdown without warning meant residents didn’t have a chance to buy fresh food and essential supplies like baby formula.
Although some friends and family were initially allowed to deliver care packages, most are now being turned away to prevent food contamination.
The Department of Health and Human Services has been carrying out food deliveries, but some residents have complained of long delays and meagre meal sizes.
To lend a hand, food charities, community organisations and members of the community have conducted huge drop-offs of donations, but there is no guarantee all the residents are receiving them.
The food situation it is just one example of growing mistrust between people trapped in the public housing estates and government officials.
On Tuesday night, there was outrage among food donors after a 28-year-old man was arrested after he was allegedly aggressive toward police in front of a Flemington public housing tower.
It is believed the incident occurred during a food delivery by a local charity, which police said was not involved in the incident.
Catherine also told The New Daily that officials had even been offering to fast-track a special $750 grant payment if they agreed to be tested.
But some were wary of the motives.
“For us Africans, we’re thinking, ‘they haven’t released a vaccine yet, maybe they want our DNA’.
“But some people, they say they don’t want the money,” Catherine said.
DHHS did not respond to direct questions about allegations residents were being offered money in return for a test.
“A one-off hardship payment will be made to every household,” a spokeswoman said.
“For households where no one is currently in work, a $750 per household payment will be made and for households where one or more residents are working, a $1,500 per household payment will be made.”