Melbourne housing tower lockdown ‘violated human rights’: ombudsman

Sydney, Australia, Dec 17 (efe-epa).- The confinement of some 3,000 residents in nine public housing towers in the Australian city of Melbourne in July due to an outbreak of Covid-19 was incompatible with the human rights laws, an official report said Thursday.

The report by the ombudsman of Victoria, the capital of which is Melbourne, was tabled in the state’s parliament.

“The rushed lockdown was not compatible with the residents’ human rights, including their right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty,” state ombudsman Deborah Glass said at the report presentation.

“In my?opinion, based on the evidence gathered by the investigation,?the action appeared to be?contrary to the law,” added Glass.

At 11 am on July 4, officials agreed to lock down the towers to contain an outbreak of Covid-19, which as expected to begin the next day, giving residents time to plan food and other essentials.

But at 4 pm the same day, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the lockdown, effective immediately. It was enforced by large numbers of police on site before many residents knew what was happening, Glass said.

She added that the early days of the lockdown of the towers, ranging from five to nine days, were “chaotic” with some people without food or medications, and some of their stories “distressing.”

Some residents waited more than a week before being allowed outside for fresh air.

While the ombudsman said the orders had successfully halted the spread of the virus and many public health officials “went above and beyond to support the residents,” the immediacy of the lockdown risked the health and wellbeing of many.

Residents include vulnerable and low-income earners, immigrants and refugees.

“People who came from war-torn states where they had been tortured at the hands of their states,” Glass said. “The site of police surrounding their buildings, government officials knocking at the door unexpected, was deeply traumatizing, I think, for some of the people we spoke to.”

She recommended that the Victorian government make an apology to the residents.

However, Victoria Housing Minister Richard Wynne said the government will “make no apology for saving people’s lives.”

On July 7, days after the confinement of the towers, the Victorian government ordered the nearly 5 million inhabitants of the city of Melbourne to remain in their homes.

This measure, which became progressively tougher and concluded in November, was taken when Victoria added 2,800 Covid-19 cases to the 8,500 that Australia had recorded at the time, and 22 of the 106 deaths.

However, the virus spread throughout the city and currently, Victoria, which has not detected cases of local transmission for more than two weeks, has accumulated 20,381 infections of the total of 28,059 throughout the country, and 820 deaths of the total of 908. EFE-EPA


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