Sydney’s poorest neighborhoods yesterday braced for military enforcement of the city’s toughest and longest lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the infection numbers held persistently high five weeks since restrictions began.
With the city of 5 million people ordered to stay home amid an outbreak of the highly transmissible Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, authorities outlined even tighter restrictions for the worst affected suburbs, including mandatory testing and mask-wearing outdoors.
From Monday, about 300 Australian army personnel would help police door-knock people who have tested positive to the virus to ensure they are isolating, New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller told a televised news conference.
“The sheer volume of increase over the last week [means] the level of compliance [enforcement] has gone from hundreds into thousands,” he said.
The amped-up military and police presence would cover the breadth of Australia’s largest city, but mainly eight local government districts in the city’s west — home to 2 million people — where most new cases have been reported.
As the city entered its sixth week of a planned nine-week lockdown, New South Wales state reported 170 new local cases, most in the state capital, Sydney, down from a record 239 a day earlier. Of the new cases, at least 42 spent time in the community while infectious.
While new cases fell, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that the high number of infectious people in the community meant that “we are expecting to see those numbers bounce around.”
At the same news conference, New South Wales Minister of Health Brad Hazzard said that people were waiting too long to be tested after developing symptoms, and that “we are seeing more families coming in with a family member who is presenting not alive but dead.”
While some people in migrant communities might be distrustful of government, “we are here to support you and our health system is here to support you,” he added.
Since the outbreak began with an unmasked, unvaccinated airport driver last month, New South Wales has reported 13 deaths, taking the national total to 923 since the pandemic began.
The epicenter of the outbreak has crossed Sydney from the affluent beachside suburb of Bondi to the western suburbs, where local leaders said that residents felt unfairly targeted by the heightened enforcement.
“They’ve got no other ideas than to bring in the military as a last resort because they’re lost for answers on issues they created,” said Steve Christou, mayor of the Cumberland local government area, where 60 percent of its 240,000 residents were born overseas.
“They are a poor community, they are a vulnerable community, and they don’t deserve these lockdowns or these extended and harsh measures that they have now been targeted with,” he added in a telephone interview.
People living in the western suburbs must stay within 5km of home and have a virus test every three days to be allowed to do essential work outside the area.
Already police have been given sweeping new powers to close businesses breaking rules.
Military officers would not be armed and would be under police command, Fuller said.
They would also aim to work with community leaders on enforcement strategies, he said.
An emergency COVID-19 cabinet of state and federal leaders began a regular meeting yesterday, with plans to discuss exit strategies from the pandemic — widely expected to center around getting more people vaccinated.
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