Melbourne tower resident compares coronavirus lockdown to ‘cage’


A resident of one of Melbourne’s locked down towers has lashed out at the Victorian government’s handling of the lockdown, calling it “unbelievable, unwise and unacceptable”. Girmay Mengesha told the Today show the residents were given little notice and weren’t able to buy food before being locked in the building, and said communication over their situation has been inadequate.

It comes as residents in the towers in North Melbourne and Flemington receive new “detention directions” telling them they could be confined to their homes inside the tower for two weeks, not five days.

Mr Mengesha lives in one of the nine public housing towers that have been placed under the mandatory detention directions after clusters of coronavirus cases were linked to some of the towers.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the move to lock down the towers on Saturday afternoon after the state recorded a spike of 108 new cases of coronavirus in the state. Victoria reported a further 74 new cases of coronavirus on Sunday, taking the total number of cases in the state to 2536.

Mr Mengesha said his living quarters are “like a cage” and he still hasn’t been tested for COVID-19. He also said he’d gone the last 24 hours without food and police officers guarding the tower have told him he can’t receive any food from outside, including from friends or by delivery.

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One of the locked down public housing towers in Flemington, Melbourne. Picture: Sarah Matray
media_cameraOne of the locked down public housing towers in Flemington, Melbourne. Picture: Sarah Matray

He said he and the other residents had no idea they’d be put into a hard lockdown until the government made a public announcement of the decision on Saturday. He said the residents were notified by text with a “link describing all the information provided by the Government”.

“When I read the first couple of paragraphs it showed me the lockdown deadline is 11.59pm,” he said.

He said the residents went downstairs to get groceries and were met by “a lot of police officers in the lobby”.

“I didn’t think until that moment, until we were asked to go back to our room, I (assumed) they were there for someone,” he said.

He said the lack of communication has been “stressful” and a hotline given to residents has been slow to respond to his questions.

Asked what he thought about comments made by Pauline Hanson, who criticised residents of the tower for receiving doses of methadone and calling them “drug addicts”, Mr Mengesha said he’d “love not to comment on Pauline Hanson”.

“Whatever comments she has to be honest, it is disrespectful,” he said.

“We are not saying this measure is not necessary. Yes, the COVID is increasing and as a community we will have to follow whatever the Government is telling us to protect us.

“(But) do it with dignity. Do it in a humane way. The way that they did it is unbelievable, unwise and unacceptable.

“The way that (Senator Hanson) is making comments, sometimes it is not about money, sometimes it is not about money, sometimes it is not about the food. Sometimes it is just respect from the community.”

The nine towers were placed into lockdown on Saturday for what the Department of Health and Human Services stated would be a period of “at least five days”.

However civil liberties council Liberty Victoria said in a tweet on Sunday the orders “clearly stipulate 14 days”.

Originally published as ‘Like a cage’: Tower resident lashes out



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