Covid: Melbourne towers lockdown ‘breached human rights’

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An ombudsman has found nine skyscrapers in Melbourne have been rushed to lockdown due to a coronavirus outbreak that violates human rights law.

From July 4th, around 3,000 people were locked in their public housing units under police protection for up to two weeks by order of the state government.

Residents were not notified, which meant many people were left without food or medicine, the ombudsman found.

The Victorian Government denies the detention violated human rights law.

The Victorian Ombudsman, who has no legal powers but is the official investigator of government complaints, called on the government to apologize to residents for “the damage and distress caused by the immediacy of their lockdown”.

Housing Secretary Richard Wynne declined this recommendation, saying, “We do not apologize for saving lives.”

What happened to the towers?

A second wave of coronavirus just set in in Melbourne in early July, and authorities were making efforts to locate cases and stop the spread.

A cluster of about two dozen infections was found in the towers, inducing a desire for speedy containment.

  • The 3,000 Australians who stood in front of the police at home

On July 4, health officials recommended an intervention, the lockdown of which should begin on July 5, to allow food supply and logistics planning.

However, Prime Minister Daniel Andrews announced on July 4th that it would start immediately. Shortly afterwards, dozens of policemen were in the towers of the housing estate.

“Most residents found out about it when they saw uniformed police officers around their homes,” said Ombudsman Deborah Glass.

Image rightsAFPImage descriptionThe order for the early closure caused great confusion among the residents

In her report, she noted that the premature imposition of the lockdown was a decision by the state government and not based on health advice.

The state’s incumbent health chief had only 15 minutes to assess the Order’s impact on human rights. She signed the policy but did not recommend putting it into effect immediately, Ms. Glass noted.

The strictest coronavirus restrictions in Australia were in place when the towers were locked. Most residents were detained for five days and those in the worst-hit tower for 14 days.

“Residents [at that tower] I’ve waited more than a week to be allowed outside under supervision, “said Ms. Glass.

What was the answer?

The state government does not agree with the results of the report, which were presented to the state parliament on Thursday.

“We had to act and act immediately because the virus was malicious,” said Wynne.

He said the authorities acted in accordance with human rights law throughout the process.

However, Ms. Glass said the hasty lockdown “was incompatible with the human rights of residents, including the right to inhuman treatment if deprived of liberty,” and appears to be in violation of Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights.

At the time, local residents – many of whom were refugees or migrants from non-English speaking communities – told the BBC that they were upset by the sudden and severe restrictions they said were discriminating against.

Many were also intimidated by the heavy police presence.

Media signatureA resident of a narrow tower told the BBC it was “like being in prison”.

Ms. Glass found it discriminatory, saying government documents indicated that the goods were “a hotbed of crime and non-compliance”.

“But the evidence was that the vast majority were law-abiding people, just like other Australians,” she said.

She said it was “inconceivable” that the following “drama of policing” for a similar Covid outbreak took place in a luxury apartment block.

Ms. Glass admitted the lockdown helped contain the outbreak, but proper human rights considerations would have “put health, not safety, at the center”.

“In a just society, human rights are not a convention that should be ignored during a crisis, but a framework for how we treat and be treated during the crisis,” she said.

What happened elsewhere in Melbourne?

Just days after the tower was locked, the entire city of Melbourne was put on lockdown to combat the larger outbreak, which is causing more than 100 cases a day.

The city-wide lockdown began on July 9 and lasted 112 days. For most of that time, residents faced a night curfew and an order to stay home, but unlike Tower residents, there were permissible reasons to leave the house.

As the virus spread outside the city, home restrictions were placed on the rest of the state as well.

The heavy police lockdown – one of the toughest in the world – shared the opinion of the city’s residents and sparked small protests.

The strict measures ultimately helped bring the case rate of over 700 new cases per day down to zero.

Victoria recorded 48 consecutive days with no locally acquired infections.

Related topics

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  • Melbourne
  • Coronavirus blocking measures
  • Australia

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