© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective mask pulls a shopping cart down the sidewalk during a blockade to slow the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in the Canterbury-Bankstown local government area. in southwest Sydney, Australia.
By Byron Kaye and Jill Gralow
SYDNEY (Reuters) – On the sands of Bondi Beach, one of Sydney’s wealthiest suburbs, seaside walkers and surfers battle for space, while joggers clog the nearby boardwalk and fitness buffs crowd around of public exercise equipment.
To the west, where COVID-19 infections are highest, shops remain closed on empty streets as some of Australia’s most migrant neighborhoods endure more intense blockades, reinforced by high-visibility police surveillance backed by the army.
Approximately three-quarters of the nearly 5,000 active cases in the state of New South Wales come from nine Sydney local government districts, the urban sprawl extending from approximately 12 km (7.5 miles) southwest of the Sydney Harbor Bridge to the foothills of the Blue Mountains.
“The community here is really struggling right now and they feel like there is a double standard,” said Bilal El-Hayek, a western city councilman who spends most days helping deliver food parcels to people who don’t. qualify for the pandemic. support payments.
“You see photos and videos coming from the east, people on the beach, while here the streets are absolutely empty,” he said.
As Australia’s largest city struggles to contain its worst outbreak of the pandemic, tougher restrictions and tighter surveillance in its worst-hit neighborhoods have stoked resentment in its most vulnerable people. That sentiment is especially stark since the Delta outbreak began in Bondi, with an airport driver unmasked and unvaccinated.
Although the entire east coast city of 5 million is closed, about 1.8 million in its ethnically diverse west are prohibited from leaving their immediate surroundings and doing any face-to-face work. Licensed workers must be tested every three days and masks are mandatory outside of homes.
The rest of the city gets by with construction and property maintenance allowed, fewer movement restrictions, and no outdoor masks required. Schools, which have been closed across the city since June, are making a comeback everywhere but the west.
“Even the refugee communities who came here 40 years ago, how do we think these people will feel in a situation like this?” said Elfa Moraitakis, executive director of SydWest Multicultural Services, which provides settlement services and elder care for refugees. “Of course they feel attacked.”
Mervat Altarazi, a Palestinian refugee who is also a SydWest social worker, said the presence of the police and the military had raised doubts among her clients, many of them from countries like Iraq and Syria.
“It’s like a shock to them because they believed they had come to a free country and they say, ‘We are facing the same thing that we are facing in our (home) country,'” he said.
“Some of them told me, ‘We are not the virus.’
NSW Police declined a request for comment, although they have publicly said that the 300 members of the defense force who help with “compliance checks” are trained to participate in the community and are not armed.
Tim Soutphommasane, a former federal commissioner for racial profiling, called western Sydney “the heart of multicultural Australia.”
“If we don’t get it right, we will undermine the social fabric of this city for years to come,” he said in an email.
The harsh lockdowns have also dealt an economic blow that the federal government, facing its weakest polls in years and with elections scheduled for early 2022, has said may contribute to a second recession in two years.
The West, where three-quarters of residents in some suburbs are foreign-born, contributes around 7% to the AUS $ 1.6 trillion ($ 1.2 trillion) national economy, with major logistics hubs. and manufacturing there, according to Business Western Sydney (BWS), an industry association.
Before the closures, three-quarters of the area’s 1 million workers left their neighborhoods daily to go to work.
“These workers have gone from earning a salary to, for many of them, lining up for welfare for the first time in their lives,” said BWS CEO David Borger.
The state government has said it will allow 80,000 western construction workers to return to workplaces once fully vaccinated, but with supply shortages and changes in vaccine advice for people under 40, Less than a sixth of young Australians have received both injections, the government said. the figures show.
After experiencing a construction boom during the first 20 months of the pandemic, Brickworks Ltd, the country’s leading brick maker, which makes a million bricks a day, said it shut down two plants in western Sydney after the closure caused an 80% reduction in demand.
“If you think about trying to find room to stack 800,000 bricks a day, eventually we get to the point where our yards are full,” CEO Lindsay (NYSE 🙂 Partridge said by phone.
“We had no other choice, we had to disconnect.”
Restaurants across the city are banned from seating customers and rely on takeout to survive, but reduced revenue in the west, coupled with restricted movement, has severely affected sales.
“One rule applies to the west, one rule applies to the east,” said Abdul Eldick, owner of Little Tripoli Lebanese restaurant for 12 years.
“I don’t need government money. I can make my own money. Just give me my business back.”
($ 1 = 1.3604 Australian dollars)