News State Victoria Vic Ombudsman to investigate housing tower lockdown

Vic Ombudsman to investigate housing tower lockdown

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The treatment of Melbourne public housing residents locked up in their homes by the government due to coronavirus will be 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 said her office had been contacted by more than 50 people, including public housing residents, advocacy groups and the wider Victorian community.

Ms Glass said her investigation would 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 on 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 put into a strict lockdown from July 4-9.

Eight have since 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,” she said.

“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.”

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 neighbouring Mitchell Shire have been in stage three lockdown for a week. They are expected to remain under those conditions until at least August 19.

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 state 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.