New South Wales (NSW) Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said that from Monday some 300 members of the Australian military will begin unarmed patrols to ensure people who test positive for the virus isolate itself.
“The sheer volume of increase over the last week (means) the level of compliance (enforcement) has gone from hundreds to thousands,” he said.
The move means that the military and police presence will cover the expanse of Australia’s largest city, but will be concentrated in eight local government districts in the city’s west – home to two million people – where most of the new cases have been reported.
The increase in the number of cases, driven by the Delta variant, has forced the city of five million people to stay at home. Authorities want tighter restrictions for the worst-affected suburbs, including mandatory testing and wearing masks outdoors.
Over the past weekend, there were protests against the closures in several Australian cities, including Sydney, where the protests turned violent, and there were more than 50 arrests.
Mehreen Faruqi, Senator for the Greens for New South Wales, denounced the decision to deploy troops, saying it had “awakened all my terrifying memories of growing up mainly under a militarized political regime in Pakistan”.
“There were checkpoints, armed soldiers on the roads, neighborhood patrols and people under house arrest. Anyone could be arrested at any time, targeted and jailed. People were being watched and nationalism entrenched. It was scary, frightening and I was never able to completely let go of the fear that this fanned from the military and the police, ”she said.
The senator added that “the militarization of public health in Australia, in communities that are already going through these difficult blockages and the anxiety and stress of Covid-19 is just b ******”.
However, Mr Fuller said the military officers would be unarmed and would be under police command. “They will also aim to work with community leaders on implementation strategies,” he said.
Since the pandemic started last year, Australia has been one of the countries that seemed to be handling it well, but now it is seeing an increase in cases. It has registered around 2,500 cases in less than three weeks.
The stricter restrictions to control the spread of the virus, however, have led to resistance from many.
Since the start of the pandemic, Australia has recorded 33,473 cases of Covid-19, including 921 deaths. But Australia’s vaccination program has been slow, with just 11.4 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines administered and only 16% of the population fully vaccinated, leading to criticism from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his government .
Additional reports by agencies