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An official investigation has found that a “hard lockdown” of nine public housing towers in Melbourne, Australia “breached human rights,” according to a report tabled in Victoria state parliament on Thursday.
The report from the Victorian Ombudsman, the official investigator into government complaints, found that the “timing of the lockdown of North Melbourne and Flemington public housing towers on July 4 was not based on direct health advice and violated Victorian human rights laws.”
The hard lockdown impacted around 3,000 people in nine public housing towers in Australia’s second largest city.
These residents were not allowed to leave their homes for any reason due to Covid-19 outbreaks in the densely populated buildings.
The hard lockdown orders came from Victorian state Premier Daniel Andrews.
In her probe into the restrictions, Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass found that senior health officials agreed on the morning of Saturday, July 4 that the towers should be locked down to control the outbreak.
However, she noted that the senior health officials anticipated “a next-day start to allow planning for food supplies and other logistics.”
But Andrews held a media conference at 4 p.m. that day and announced an immediate lockdown, Glass said in the report.
“Many residents knew nothing of the lockdown or the reason for it when large numbers of police appeared on their estate that afternoon,” Glass said.
She added that her investigation found that “initially there was chaos. Some people were without food and medicines.”
Glass added that the lockdown was lifted at eight of the nine towers after five days. But residents at the remaining tower, 33 Alfred St., where infection rates were highest, were detained for another nine days.
Some residents in that tower waited more than a week to be allowed outside under supervision for fresh air, Glass noted in her report.
“The rushed lockdown was not compatible with the residents’ human rights, including their right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty,” she added.
The Ombudsman recommended the Victorian Government apologize to the residents, acknowledging the “impact of their immediate detention on their health and wellbeing”.
“In my opinion, based on the evidence gathered by the investigation, the action appeared to be contrary to the law,” Glass said. The Victorian Ombudsman has no legal power.