New South Wales (NSW) police commissioner Mick Fuller said that from Monday some 300 Australian army personnel will begin unarmed patrols to ensure people who have tested positive for the virus are isolating.
“The sheer volume of increase over the last week (means) the level of compliance (enforcement) has gone from hundreds into thousands,” he said.
The move means that the military and police presence would cover the breadth of Australia’s largest city, but will be concentrated on eight local government districts in the city’s west – home to two million people – where most new cases have been reported.
The surge in cases, driven by the Delta variant, has resulted in the city of five million people being ordered to stay home. The authorities want tighter restrictions for the worst-affected suburbs, including mandatory testing and mask-wearing outdoors.
Last weekend there were demonstrations against lockdowns in several Australian cities, including Sydney, where protests turned violent, and there were more than 50 arrests.
Mehreen Faruqi, Greens senator for NSW, denounced the decision to deploy troops, claiming it had “stirred up all my terrifying memories of growing up mostly under a militarised political regime in Pakistan”.
“There were check points, armed soldiers on the roads, neighbourhood patrols and people under house arrest. Anyone could be stopped at any time, targeted and imprisoned. People were surveilled and nationalism entrenched. This was scary, scary stuff and I’ve never been able to fully shake the fear it fomented of the army and police,” she said.
The senator added that the “militarisation of public health in Australia, in communities that are already going through these difficult lockdowns and the anxiety and stress of Covid-19 is just plain b******ry”.
“Creating fear and threatening people when they are already vulnerable is cruel and has nothing to do with public health. What people need is support and reassurance, not fear and surveillance,” she exclaimed.
However, Mr Fuller said the military officers won’t be armed and will be under police command. “They will also aim to work with community leaders on enforcement strategies,” he said.
Since the pandemic began last year, Australia has been one of the countries that had appeared to manage it well, but it is now witnessing a surge in cases. It has recorded about 2,500 cases in less than three weeks.
The tighter restrictions to control the spread of the virus, however, has resulted in resistance from many people.
Since the pandemic began, Australia has recorded, 33,473 cases of Covid-19, including 921 deaths. But Australia’s vaccination programme has been sluggish, with only 11.4 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines being administered, and a mere 16 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, leading to criticism of prime minister Scott Morrison and his government.
Additional reporting by agencies