Calls from western Sydney community leaders to ‘heal the divide’ as tougher COVID-19 rules come into force

As residents in parts of western and south-western Sydney come under harsher COVID-19 rules, community leaders have called on the state’s premier to “heal the divide that has emerged in Greater Sydney”.

On Monday, measures including a night-time curfew came into effect for people living in Sydney’s 12 local government areas of concern. 

Twenty-one councillors across the LGAs of concern wrote a joint letter to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian over the weekend calling for more “consistent” restrictions and enforcement across the Greater Sydney region. 

“For many weeks now, our LGAs have faced restrictions over and above the rest of Sydney. The recent implementation of a curfew, exclusively for the LGAs of concern, despite your prior statements that curfews weren’t effective, being the latest example,” they wrote.

“The constant changes in public health orders and the exclusion and inclusion of certain LGAs and suburbs has made interpreting and disseminating important public health information difficult.

“Clear, consistent and easy to follow information during a crisis saves lives, especially amongst low socio economic and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.” 

The councillors wrote that the “inconsistency” of additional geographic-based restrictions coupled with “statements from politicians and media commentators and footage of other parts of Sydney of people congregating in large numbers” creates confusion, and has left locals feeling “ostracised” and “subject to double standards”. 

“It has also formented a dangerous undercurrent of resentment in our community, creating a deep divide between the ‘LGAs of concern’ and the rest of Sydney,” they wrote. 

Canterbury Bankstown Mayor Khal Asfour told ABC Radio on Monday the community felt punished by the curfew, even though case numbers had stabilised. 

“I mean, the premier is the one that’s kept saying that curfews don’t work,” he said.

“What most people were upset about isn’t necessarily the curfew. But it’s the fact that it’s not applying to everybody, just the 12 areas of concern, when there are some suburbs and some areas of concern that really don’t have any COVID numbers at all.”

When asked why LGAs with lower cases numbers such as Burwood and Strathfield remained under tighter rules, Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Marianna Gale told reporters on Monday the issue was proximity and close links between social groups.

“It’s very easy for transmission to occur once Delta gets into a community. And that’s just the reality of what we’re facing with how transmissible this Delta variant is,” she said. 

Cumberland Mayor Steve Christou told SBS News his community feels they have been singled out amid criticism of COVID-19 rule-breakers.

He pointed to the reaction to an illegal party in Maroubra in the city’s east, which has infected at least 16 people and been described as a superspreader event. 

“Yes, I understand those residents in Maroubra might have been fined,” Mr Christou said. 

“But where is the talk, that we now have an outbreak in that suburb and surrounding areas and talks of lockdowns?

“I don’t hear it, and that is a problem.” 

On Friday,… a young boy rang the council and said, ‘I’m interpreting for my mum, we need food, we have no money.

Mr Christou said existing lockdown measures, which have been in place across the city’s south and west for over eight weeks, had left many families severely impacted. 

“Everyday, council is inundated with residents that can no longer afford to pay the mortgage, the rent, their bills or put food on the table to feed the children. It’s heartbreaking,” he said. 

“On Friday … a young boy rang the council and said, ‘I’m interpreting for my mum, we need food, we have no money. And if you can help, can I please have some nutella, I’d really like some nutella’.” 

Cumberland City Council mayor Steve Christou

SBS News

Despite rising case numbers, Premier Gladys Berejiklian is sticking by her plan to give some freedoms to fully vaccinated residents once the state hits six million vaccinations. 

The premier would not give details as to whether those freedoms would be made available in LGAs of concern, where exercise is currently limited to one hour per day and outdoor leisure (sitting in parks) is not allowed. 

“It’s definitely not sending a positive message at the moment,” Mr Christou said. 

“Every weekend, we see pictures of Bondi Beach that is practically full of people carrying on with their lives, presumably uninterrupted, yet we have western LGAs under extreme lockdowns and now curfews. It creates this perception of a divide.”

Ms Berejiklian has also promised details on whether students would return to the classroom in term four. 

“It is important for us to make sure we have considered all issues in relation to schools going back. As soon as we have concrete advice …we will communicate it,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Mr Christou said students in the LGAs of concern must be given the same access to classrooms. 

“This is a major impact, these young children are going through the most important periods of their lives,” he said.

“They’ve had interrupted schooling, home schooling is not perfect by any means. And quite frankly, it isn’t adequate.”

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