The leaders of two local government areas in south-west Sydney have criticised the NSW government’s handling of the virus outbreak, following a raft of new measures to limit movement in the region.
The state recorded 111 new cases on Saturday, prompting sweeping new restrictions, with residents of Canterbury-Bankstown, Liverpool and Fairfield now banned from leaving their council areas unless they are health or emergency services workers.
It is the latest set of measures targeted at the multicultural region, following a police crackdown and mandatory COVID-19 testing of essential workers every three days.
Canterbury Bankstown Mayor Khal Asfour accused the state government of “making policy on the run” in its handling of the outbreak.
“I think the horse has bolted and we’re doing our best as a community, but we need to be all in this together – not parts of city treated differently than others,” he said.
“My community is hurting, and now they’re going to be hurting even more, because we’re treated differently than the rest of Sydney.”
Fairfield Mayor Frank Carbone said he was disappointed in the government’s decision to exempt the rest of Greater Sydney from the additional restrictions on movement.
“If there’s cases in the inner city and cases in south-west Sydney, the same restrictions should apply to everybody,” he said.
“The whole of the inner city should be under the same quarantine rules. I think it’s not a good reflection on our community to have people segregated.”
“We shouldn’t forget this virus goes across postcodes. There is no wall you can put up to stop it.”
Mr Asfour argued there was a clear double standard in how residents in the eastern suburbs, where this cluster originated, have been treated compared to residents in his community.
“They were shoulder-to-shoulder only last weekend at Bondi Beach, but here we had Pol Air (police aviation units), we had dog squads, we had mounted police,” he said.
“Our community has heeded the message. We are doing the right thing, but unfortunately because of flip-flopping by this government, and the decisions that they’re making, we’re being treated unfairly.”
“But we will step up, that’s our community…and we will do the right thing.”
NSW government defends measures
Speaking to reporters earlier today, Dr Kerry Chant rejected the notion the government would be placing a so-called “ring of steel” around the region.
“What we are wanting to do is make sure that communities are actually really well supported. They have been doing the hard yards and it is through no fault of their own that they have been impacted by COVID,” she said.
“I have worked much of my working life in south-western Sydney and I have the deepest respect for the communities of south-western Sydney.
“They are bearing the burden of the caseloads and hence the strategies.”
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Warboys said the strengthening of the health orders was aimed at changing behaviour “particularly in south-west Sydney”.
“As we speak now, a local emergency management response is being tailored to make sure that no-one in those communities goes without things that they need to get through the next 14 days,” he told reporters.
The Deputy Commissioner also advised the “tempo of the police response” would increase across Greater Sydney.
From Sunday, non-essential retail will close to face-to-face services, while construction sites and renovations will be shut down for the next two weeks, measures Mr Asfour says will have a significant impact on his region.
“We are communities full of laborers trainees, electricians, plumbers,” he said.
“What this is going to mean is, our communities, our families aren’t going to be able to put food on the table.”
Calls for more financial aid
Mr Carbone said the new measures needed to be matched by an increase in economic assistance.
“This will devastate our community, we need the Premier and the Prime Minister to act and to act fast,” he said.
“We need more financial assistance when it’s to support those most vulnerable in our community. After all, this is not the people of Fairfield’s fault.”
The current financial supports available through Service New South Wales and Services Australia, he said, are difficult to access for many residents.
“It’s no doubt that it is really difficult to understand the current guidelines when it comes to the support package, especially in areas that are multicultural like Southwest Sydney,” he said.
“The government needs to do more to make it easier, simpler for people to get assistance.”