After being locked up for five days from Saturday 4 July, the residents of the four high-rise towers in Flemington have been in stage 3 restrictions since Thursday 9 July, like the rest of Melbourne.
There have been ongoing concerns and issues arising from the number of diagnosed cases and close contacts in the crowded buildings.
The lock-up was conducted, according to the state government, in order to test all residents.
Door-to-door testing was conducted and 85% of residents underwent the voluntary testing (having previously been refused testing without symptoms as high-rise residents have never been categorised as high risk for testing without symptoms).
There are approximately 150 active cases across all nine public housing towers in Flemington and North Melbourne (as of 18 July), although there are more close contacts.
All active cases and close contacts have been required to isolate since the towers re-opened on 9 July, until their cases or quarantine periods are resolved.
The management of these cases and close contacts has caused considered concern for the past ten days.
The government has said on multiple occasions that all people required to isolate in the high-rise towers have been offered alternative accommodation, although only 20 households have taken up this offer. The majority of people diagnosed, and close contacts, have remained at home.
This has raised concerns for their health and safety, as well as the health and safety of all other residents of the housing estate in Flemington.
Many of the families affected have a number of children and adults living in small apartments – up to nine in at least one case in a small three bedroom apartment. Coping with isolation in such conditions must be difficult for families.
Others are living alone and in isolation with the support of DHHS, CoHealth and other services.
For residents who are well, the uncertainty of living in close quarters alongside people with COVID-19 has caused anxiety. The success of the strategy relies on everyone understanding what is required of them in isolation, and in stage 3 restrictions.
The rules for diagnosed people, recently updated, allow people to leave their home for exercise. While this is important for health and well being, it has created anxiety for residents.
One of the other key issues emerging is the potential for stigmatisation and embarrassment for those with the virus, as well as the obvious risk of further transmission through the densely populated towers.
Community leaders and residents have been working hard all week to ask for clearer, and more sensitive, communication with those impacted, and management to ensure those with the virus are well cared for.
The risk of further transmission in the towers is remains very real.
Local journalist, Margaret Simons, has been closely following all aspects of the issue and regularly posting updates on Twitter.
The Ombudsman has also opened an investigation into the management of the public housing lockdown and has invited any information via phone or email.
She is also investigating the management of isolation and quarantine in the high-rise, and the ways in which offers of alternative accomodation have been explained and made to residents.
People with specific complaints that may be resolved informally are encouraged to get in touch with the Ombudsman. People can call the office on 9613 6222 (10am-4pm, Monday to Friday) and call 131 450 if they need an interpreter. Complaints can also be made online at https://www.ombudsman.vic.gov.au/complaints/
From Sunday 19 July, the tower at 33 Alfred St will also be opened with a number of families remaining in isolation or quarantine.
The careful management of the public housing cases remain a key issue for the successful elimination of the virus from Victoria.