The strict quarantine — which is the first of its kind in Australia during the pandemic and is being monitored by hundreds of police officers — started immediately on Saturday afternoon after 23 coronavirus infections were found in 12 of the towers’ households. Public health officials said everyone in the towers would be tested over the next few days.
“There is a lot of intermingling of the people between those towers for work, for family, for community events,” said Dr. Paul Kelly, Australia’s acting chief medical officer.
He called the towers “vertical cruise ships” with the potential to cause a major surge in cases at a time when Australia’s infections are already rising because of an outbreak across several Melbourne suburbs.
Some residents of the towers objected to being quarantined without notice. Abdi Ibrahim, who lives there with his five children, including 7-month-old twins, told The Australian that the lockdown had been imposed so quickly that it gave him no time to buy groceries for his family. He also had to cancel his Sunday shift at a logistics company.
“If I don’t work, I don’t get paid,” he said, adding: “We are so isolated — you know what I mean, it’s like a prison.”
Officials said they would provide tower residents with food, cash compensation and rent relief.
As the towers were being locked down, officials also added two more Melbourne postal codes to the 10 others already under stay-at-home orders, affecting a total of more than 300,000 people. Unlike residents of the towers, people in these areas are allowed to leave their homes for work or education, exercise, medical care, caregiving or shopping for essential supplies.
Australia’s total case count remains relatively small, but public health officials have become increasingly alarmed by the outbreak in Melbourne. About 200 new cases emerged in and around the city over the past two days, a growth rate not seen since March.