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Melbourne COVID-19: Inside the public housing towers locked down by Daniel Andrews

A distraught woman has been pulled from her car by police after trying to flee a Melbourne public housing tower.

The disturbing incident occurred outside a high-rise housing commission unit on Racecourse Road at Flemington, in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, just before 9am on Sunday.

Shocking photos show the woman driving her vehicle out of the carpark as a police officer chases after her.

Eventually catching up to the woman, he leans inside the open driver’s side window and grabs her by the jacket at which point she slows down the vehicle. 

After several other police officers rushed to help, the visibly shaken woman was taken away and questioned. 

The incident comes less than 24 hours into the ‘hard lockdown’ on nine public housing building across the city, an extreme step taken by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews in a bid to stop the rapidly rising spread of the COVID-19. 

A distraught woman has been pulled from her car by police after trying to flee a Melbourne public housing tower on Sunday

A distraught woman has been pulled from her car by police after trying to flee a Melbourne public housing tower on Sunday

As the woman attempted to drive out of the carpark of one of the high-rise buildings, an officer chased her down and grabbed her by the coat

As the woman attempted to drive out of the carpark of one of the high-rise buildings, an officer chased her down and grabbed her by the coat

Other officers then ran to assist their colleague and managed to bring the woman's vehicle to a close outside the Flemington unit block

Other officers then ran to assist their colleague and managed to bring the woman’s vehicle to a close outside the Flemington unit block 

The visibly shaken woman was then taken away and questioned. Victoria Police refused to comment on details of the incident

The visibly shaken woman was then taken away and questioned. Victoria Police refused to comment on details of the incident

The lockdown of public housing towers in Melbourne could be just the beginning for Victoria unless the community transmission rate of COVID-19 suddenly slows. 

Premier Andrews locked the doors to nine housing towers from 4pm on Saturday amid fears the virus is spreading rapidly within their walls.

The ‘hard lockdown’ will see 3,000 people in towers across Flemington, Kensington and North Melbourne forced to stay inside – with armed police on every single floor of every block ensuring they do not leave for any reason over the next five days.

The health concerns driving the stricter lockdown are attributed to crowded living and shared spaces, such as lifts.

A total of 108 new cases of COVID-19 were detected in Victoria on Friday – just three shy of the highest total at the peak of the pandemic – leading Mr Andrews to again warn the entire state could be put back into lockdown if things do not soon improve.

Public housing blocks in the suburbs of Flemington (pictured), Kensington and North Melbourne, where COVID-19 outbreaks have been recorded, were shut down on Saturday

Public housing blocks in the suburbs of Flemington (pictured), Kensington and North Melbourne, where COVID-19 outbreaks have been recorded, were shut down on Saturday

The incident comes less than 24 hours into the 'hard lockdown' which will last for five days and sees police on every floor to stop people leaving

The incident comes less than 24 hours into the ‘hard lockdown’ which will last for five days and sees police on every floor to stop people leaving

A resident carrying a baby walks past three police officers after nine public housing buildings in Melbourne's hotspot suburbs were put into immediate lockdown on Saturday

A resident carrying a baby walks past three police officers after nine public housing buildings in Melbourne’s hotspot suburbs were put into immediate lockdown on Saturday

Two residents in lockdown at 130 Racecourse Road peer out of their window on Saturday

Two residents in lockdown at 130 Racecourse Road peer out of their window on Saturday

A total of 108 new cases of COVID-19 were detected in Victoria on Friday, leading Premier Dan Andrews to warn the entire state could be put back into lockdown if things don't soon improve

A total of 108 new cases of COVID-19 were detected in Victoria on Friday, leading Premier Dan Andrews to warn the entire state could be put back into lockdown if things don’t soon improve

‘If we don’t all work together and follow the rules, every postcode will be locked down,’ he said.

‘That is a very clear message.’

Shortly after the closure of the towers was announced a fundraiser was set up by the Victorian Trades Hall Council, with more than $150,000 donated in around 12 hours. 

Residents in the towers subjected to the ‘hard lockdown’ are among the state’s most vulnerable.

Many have fled war or family violence and are dealing with mental illness, disability and low income. 

Within an hour of Mr Andrews’ 4pm press conference, police had swarmed the public housing buildings and blocked all driveways and doorways. 

The government said it would arrange the delivery of food and medical supplies to all homes. 

However, residents with urgent needs have told AAP no one has yet asked them what they need.

Tekeste Hailu told the ABC he had no idea his building had been locked down until he went to get groceries for his grandmother and found police standing at the exit.

‘I’m thinking, what’s going on, has someone died or something?’ Mr Hailu said.

Tekeste Hailu (pictured) said he had no idea his building had been locked down until he went to get groceries for his grandmother and found police standing at the exit

Tekeste Hailu (pictured) said he had no idea his building had been locked down until he went to get groceries for his grandmother and found police standing at the exit

Towers in the suburbs of Flemington (pictured), Kensington and North Melbourne will be closed for five days

Towers in the suburbs of Flemington (pictured), Kensington and North Melbourne will be closed for five days

Residents of the towers have complained about a lack of communication, pointing out that police were at the building long before they were told about the changes

Residents of the towers have complained about a lack of communication, pointing out that police were at the building long before they were told about the changes

Police in face masks block an entry point at one of the public housing towers in Flemington, Melbourne on Saturday

Police in face masks block an entry point at one of the public housing towers in Flemington, Melbourne on Saturday

A police officer speaks to a driver entering the housing commission flats in the suburb of Flemington

A police officer speaks to a driver entering the housing commission flats in the suburb of Flemington

Another resident of the towers complained about a lack of communication from the government in the lead up to the lockdown.

Girmay Mengesha said the speed at which police were outside the building led him to think the decision was pre-planned.

‘The way they mobilised the police officers … meant they already knew,’ Mr Mengesha said.

‘Why didn’t they tell us?’

Residents in the 3031 and 3051 postcodes who do not live in the towers have joined the 10 other community transmission ‘hot zones’ under stay-at-home orders.

They can only leave home to get food and medical supplies, or to attend school or work.

Melbourne City Councilor Rohan Leppert described the situation as ‘terrifying’.

In a series of tweets by the Greens party member on Saturday evening, Mr Leppert said he believes police patrolling the inside of the building should not be armed.

‘Please tell me these cops posted to every floor won’t be armed,’ he tweeted. 

‘If there’s a cop on every floor I hope there’s a social worker, counselor, DV (domestic violence) worker and translator on every floor too. This is legit terrifying.’

One resident is seen entering their building with groceries from Coles. Others have complained about being unable to head to the shops before the immediate lockdown was announced

One resident is seen entering their building with groceries from Coles. Others have complained about being unable to head to the shops before the immediate lockdown was announced

Pictured: Police enforce a lockdown at public housing towers on Racecourse Road in Flemington

Pictured: Police enforce a lockdown at public housing towers on Racecourse Road in Flemington

Residents were seen confronting police about why they were being targeted while others sought information from gathered media.

Public housing resident Hoda God, 31, told AAP everyone was surprised by the lockdown and families with young children were already struggling.

‘A lady in the building with three kids, she wanted to get formula,’ she said.

‘The lady needed formula like right now. It’s a bit sad that she can’t even go to Woolies.’

Another woman with a five-year-old child wanted to go shopping for groceries and was told by police she couldn’t.

‘They need groceries now. She has nothing to cook tonight,’ Ms God said.

A woman holds a baby as she talks to two Victoria Police officers outside on of the nine public housing estates on Saturday night

A woman holds a baby as she talks to two Victoria Police officers outside on of the nine public housing estates on Saturday night

Police speak to a resident after the Victorian Government announced nine public housing estates would be placed in immediate lockdown

Police speak to a resident after the Victorian Government announced nine public housing estates would be placed in immediate lockdown

A general view of Racecourse Road in Flemington, Melbourne, on Saturday, as it's announced the suburb will be put into lockdown

A general view of Racecourse Road in Flemington, Melbourne, on Saturday, as it’s announced the suburb will be put into lockdown

The lockdown will require an unprecedented level of help from police but Mr Andrews said the residents will be supported and fed throughout the shutdown. 

‘There will be no one going in other than residents who are returning home and no one will be allowed out of those public housing towers,’ Mr Andrews said.

‘There will be a massive logistical task to make sure those people are fed, given the support that they need. 

‘I think we’re equal to that task and I don’t for a moment underestimate how challenging, how traumatic in some respects that will be for those 3,000 residents.’ 

The peak body for the social service sector said any mistakes in the management of the public housing lockdowns could be ‘horrific’.

Residents there are dealing with trauma from war and domestic violence, mental illness, disability, difficulty with English and unreliable employment, Victorian Council of Social Services head Emma King said.

They must be treated sensitively and be given access to support services and information.

Police guard the entry of 130 Racecourse Road in Flemington on Saturday evenin

Police guard the entry of 130 Racecourse Road in Flemington on Saturday evenin

A resident in lockdown is seen on the phone through their window

A resident in lockdown is seen on the phone through their window

Police are seen enforcing a lockdown at public housing towers on Racecourse Road in Flemington, Melbourne on Saturday

Police are seen enforcing a lockdown at public housing towers on Racecourse Road in Flemington, Melbourne on Saturday

Mr Andrews said the hard public housing lockdowns will affect approximately 3000 residents who live in 1,345 units. 

‘You will not be allowed to leave your unit, your dwelling within that tower for any reason,’ the premier said.  

‘I would ask we all be as sensitive as we possibly can as to the privacy and fragility many of those people will be experiencing right now.

‘This is a very significant step, not one we’ve had to take before but it is for the protection of those residents and the broader community that we take this very difficult step.’

About 500 police will be deployed across the nine towers during each shift, or about 55 officers per unit block. 

A ‘total’ or ‘hard’ lockdown where residents are completely confined to their homes is a first for Australia during the pandemic.

It has echoes of Wuhan residents being sealed in their homes during the first outbreak of the pandemic.

The announcement raised immediate questions about how residents will meet their basic needs. 

Police stand at the front of the housing commission flats in the suburb of Flemington, where a coronavirus outbreak has been recorded

Police stand at the front of the housing commission flats in the suburb of Flemington, where a coronavirus outbreak has been recorded

A resident is seen peering through their window after being ordered to stay inside

A resident is seen peering through their window after being ordered to stay inside 

Police speak to a resident living at the housing commission flats in the suburb of Flemington

Police speak to a resident living at the housing commission flats in the suburb of Flemington

Two residents look on from their window as they are placed in immediate lockdown on Saturday

Two residents look on from their window as they are placed in immediate lockdown on Saturday

VICTORIA’S HARD LOCKDOWN

Nine public housing towers in Melbourne are in immediate lockdown for at least five days.

Flemington: The high density complexes at 12 Holland Court, 120 Racecourse Road, 126 Racecourse Road and 130 Racecourse Road.

North Melbourne: 12 Sutton Street, 33 Alfred Street, 76 Canning Street, 159 Melrose Street and 9 Pampas Street.

Premier Daniel Andrews said 23 coronavirus cases have been recorded across more than 12 households in Flemington and North Melbourne public housing estates in recent days. 

Mr Andrews said it would be a ‘major logistical task’ to make sure residents are fed and cared for. 

‘We will take care of you,’ he said.

‘Whether it be physical health, mental health, food, supplies, all of those sorts of issues will be dealt with and we’re confident … that work has already started.’ 

In Flemington, the high density complexes at 12 Holland Court, 120 Racecourse Road, 126 Racecourse Road and 130 Racecourse Road will go into hard lockdown immediately. 

Likewise in North Melbourne, 12 Sutton Street, 33 Alfred Street, 76 Canning Street, 159 Melrose Street and 9 Pampas Street will go into hard lockdown also.

Mr Andrews explained 23 coronavirus cases have been recorded across more than 12 households in Flemington and North Melbourne public housing estates in recent days.  

‘This represents a challenge we’ve not yet encountered. This is not like an outbreak spread across multiple homes or multiple suburbs,’ he said.

‘The close confines and the shared community spaces within these large apartment blocks means this virus can spread like wildfire.

‘And just like fire, we need to put a perimeter around it to stop it from spreading.’

About 500 police will be deployed across the nine towers during each shift, or about 55 officers per unit (Pictured: A group of officers outside public housing towers on Racecourse Road)

About 500 police will be deployed across the nine towers during each shift, or about 55 officers per unit (Pictured: A group of officers outside public housing towers on Racecourse Road)

A resident at the housing commission flats in the suburb of Flemington looks out of their window

A resident at the housing commission flats in the suburb of Flemington looks out of their window

Police officers on patrol the hotspot suburb of Glenroy in Melbourne on Saturday

Police officers on patrol the hotspot suburb of Glenroy in Melbourne on Saturday

A 'total' or 'hard' lockdown where residents are completely confined to their homes is a first for Australia during the pandemic

A ‘total’ or ‘hard’ lockdown where residents are completely confined to their homes is a first for Australia during the pandemic

Victorian Council of Social Service chief executive Emma King called the move to lockdown nine buildings ‘dramatic’ but important. 

She said they will work with tenants to ensure support services can be accessed. 

‘If we get this wrong, the consequences will be horrific.

‘Some public housing tenants have fled war or family violence.

‘Some are dealing with mental health challenges. Many don’t speak English as their first language. Many others work casual or insecure jobs.

‘This lockdown will scare many people, and trigger memories of past trauma.

‘Being told you cannot leave your house, or seeing police on your doorstep, can be quiet confronting.

‘Being cut off from outside support services and family networks will also be damaging for many people.’

Victoria has only reported a bigger spike once before, with 111 coronavirus infections on March 28, during the height of the pandemic. 

‘As these figures show, we are still on a knife’s edge. Rather than spread across the state, we know many of these cases are located in specific communities,’ Mr Andrews said.

‘That means the need for targeted, swift action is stronger than ever before.’ 

A boarded up St Vincent's De Paul op shop in the locked down hot spot of Glenroy

A boarded up St Vincent’s De Paul op shop in the locked down hot spot of Glenroy

Mr Andrews announced he was extending stay-at-home orders for two further postcodes 3031 (Flemington, Kensington) and 3051 (North Melbourne)

Mr Andrews announced he was extending stay-at-home orders for two further postcodes 3031 (Flemington, Kensington) and 3051 (North Melbourne)

Pictured: Health workers are seen at a coronvirus testing clinic in Brunswick West, Melbourne, on Saturday

Pictured: Health workers are seen at a coronvirus testing clinic in Brunswick West, Melbourne, on Saturday

Dozens of Melburnians line for a COVID-19 swab in Brunswick West on Saturday

Dozens of Melburnians line for a COVID-19 swab in Brunswick West on Saturday

There are 509 active cases with 25 people in hospital and three in intensive care. 

There are now 38 Melbourne suburbs in localised lockdowns after massive outbreaks in the city’s northern and western suburbs.   

It comes amid growing fears the pandemic will easily spread around the country from the nation’s second biggest city. 

Already on Saturday, a traveller from Melbourne on board an XPT train was detained after suffering COVID-19 like symptoms. 

It comes as two Kmart stores, in Barkly Square, Brunswick, and another in Footscray closed after staff members tested positive on Saturday. 

Both discount variety stores are being closed for deep cleaning. 

Which suburbs are in lockdown? 

 3012 – Brooklyn, Kingsville, Maidstone, Tottenham, West Footscray

3021 – Albanvale, Kealba, Kings Park, St Albans

3032 – Ascot Vale, Highpoint City, Maribyrnong, Travancore

3038 – Keilor Downs, Keilor Lodge, Taylors Lakes, Watergardens

3042 – Airport West, Keilor Park, Niddrie

3046 – Glenroy, Hadfield, Oak Park

3047 – Broadmeadows, Dallas, Jacana

3055 – Brunswick South, Brunswick West, Moonee Vale, Moreland West

3060 – Fawkner

3064 – Craigieburn, Donnybrook, Mickelham, Roxburgh Park, Kalkallo  

FROM 11.59 ON SATURDAY JULY 4:

3031 – Flemington, Kensington

3051 – North Melbourne

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