The Victorian government is facing calls to bring mobile testing into all of Melbourne’s high-rise public housing estates and to ramp up cleaning and culturally appropriate resources to prevent a repeat of the “hard lockdown” inflicted on 3,000 residents since Saturday.
As the state’s premier, Daniel Andrews, cited a record 191 new cases while reintroducing stage 3 restrictions across Melbourne, residents in other large high-rise towers across the inner city still expressed fear about the prospect of their own hard lockdown and said they were frustrated by a lack of resources and support.
It is hoped that the 3,000 people subjected to the “hard lockdown” in the nine towers in Flemington and north Melbourne – which prevents them from leaving their building under any circumstances – will be brought back into line with the rest of the city from midnight Wednesday.
But just on the other side of Melbourne’s CBD, at the Carlton public housing estate, Cory Memery, 48, said a lack of action by authorities at his high-rise block was causing a “a lot of worry” among residents.
Many of his concerns were the same as those that residents in the north Melbourne and Flemington estates had raised with authorities months ago, as reported by the Guardian on Tuesday.
In Carlton, there was very little hand sanitiser in common areas and it was intended to be shared between hundreds of people, Memery said, standing next to the building’s housing office, closed due to the pandemic.
“There needs to be hand sanitiser on every floor,” he told the Guardian. “That is an absolute given.”
Memery also asked for mobile testing to be brought into the estates. “Bring the facilities to us – there might be people that are [then] willing to be tested.”
Memery said there had been no discernible difference in his building. “It’s just the normal practices, they come up and clean my floor once a fortnight. It’s been that way forever. I haven’t seen the cleaning brigade who go out and do the tram stops come in here, but I have seen that in other estates.”
East of the Carlton estate, Penelope Drummond was watching the situation in Flemington and North Melbourne unfold on television from her north Richmond high-rise flat and feeling “very anxious”.
She thought the cleaning services had definitely been improved in her building – one of five in the massive estate – but was worried about hundreds of residents being forced to share only two lifts.
“There is cleaning going on in the lift. I see there are extra cleaners going around,” Drummond said. “Is it enough? No. Is anything enough?
“A lot of people are wearing masks because they have heard that is the right thing to do in this environment.”
Drummond agreed with calls for mobile testing to be brought to her estate. “I would like to think that would happen here as a preventative measure.”
Later on Tuesday, Nine News reported a resident at the Flemington high-rise who had tested positive had also worked at the north Richmond estate, where he had patrolled three floors in one of the buildings.
The state government is now facing calls from political opponents on its left and right for an increased testing regime in public housing estates.
The federal Greens leader, Adam Bandt, whose electorate takes in most of Melbourne’s inner-city public housing high-rises, on Tuesday wrote to the government with his state Greens colleague Ellen Sandell calling for more resources and mobile testing.
“There is no excuse for communal hand sanitiser bottles being empty for days on end in a pandemic or for lifts to be out of action,” he told the Guardian.
“We also need priority on-site testing at these towers, so residents can be cleared of the virus as soon as possible and treatment given to those who test positive.”
The left-leaning City of Yarra council was expected to pass a motion on Tuesday night calling on the government to provide mobile testing for all public housing residents, among other measures.
Stephen Jolly, a veteran councillor in Yarra, where there are 12 public housing high-rises, said residents were worried there was nothing being done to prevent their own estates facing a hard lockdown.
“We need testing,” he said. “And if someone tests positive, it shouldn’t be that we lock down the whole tower. We don’t do that for private blocks of units.”
The Victorian Liberals’ housing spokesman, Tim Smith, said there should be “compulsory testing in all public housing”.
“If anyone tests positive in public housing, they must be immediately quarantined in either hospital or appropriate crisis accommodation,” he told the NCA Newswire.
But Ranko Cosic, a community leader and resident at the Atherton Gardens estate in Fitzroy, baulked at the idea of mandatory testing.
He said bringing testing to residents in the public housing flats was a “very good option”.
“I think the residents should have a choice, otherwise it comes across like you’re being forced.”