Lockdown restrictions have seen a strong shift in the realities and privileges we had, each of them taken away from us; seeing our friends, visiting family and going out. It’s been understandably hard. While those liberties have been taken away and have forced us to stay at home, we have also seen a shift in something greater and more concerning.
Bias and racism, we all know how the spread of Covid-19 re-emerged, It began in Bondi, the east of Sydney. It spread fast, whilst restrictions were placed ever so slowly. There was a lack of police presence, laissez faire restrictions, limited sense of urgency and a ‘trust’ that the community would do the right thing. The cases started to spread all over Sydney, and eventually landed in Sydney’s South-West and West. From the initial 50 cases per day to numbers above 100. The reaction from the government was quick, they enacted a strict lockdown on the five local government areas (LGAs) with the highest numbers, Canterbury-Bankstown, Liverpool, Fairfield, Cumberland, and Blacktown.
Before we begin explaining why it spread so quickly, we must go to the root of the cause for the surge in Covid-19 cases. To put it simply, it was and still is the failed vaccine rollout, this issue would not be as severe if government did not fail to secure the large amounts of vaccines available. In previous interviews when discussing the vaccine rollout, Prime Minister, Scott Morrison stated that there was no “race” to get vaccinated and “no rush”. This is appalling when compared to leaders of other countries who clearly stated that there must be a rush to the vaccine rollout in their country.
The failed vaccine rollout not only put stress on the community but also on young people. They were told they had to wait until they were eligible to get the vaccine. But as the situation progressed, they were told to come and get vaccinated, despite the information previously having been that AstraZeneca was not okay for them. And even once young people were eligible, trying to navigate when you could get an appointment was almost impossible, with spots booked out for months. For me, there was an ever-growing fear in the back of my mind that I would get COVID, and that I wouldn’t see my friends and family.
Despite this poor communication about the vaccines and then the difficulties people faced in booking vaccines, the public were blamed for not coming forward to get the vaccine. We heard time and time again, our leaders calling on people to come and get vaccinated, and the word ‘selfish’ being thrown around. For those who want desperately to get vaccinated but who have been unable due to eligibility or booking an appointment, this felt like a kick in the teeth. To blame the public is easy. It is
important that we do not fall into the trap of the rhetoric from our government but rather remind ourselves that it isn’t our fault. For years, the government has pushed all of their failed attempts of policy and effective legislation on us to avoid public scrutiny. It is time we took a closer look at the liberal government for what they are, a coalition full of failed fixations, disrespectful and classist leaders.
Since we have spoken about the cause of the outbreak, let’s start talking about the spread in South-West Sydney and Western Sydney. The entire area has been typecast. We have been referred to as “ethnics” and “people like me” by the NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian. We have been portrayed as people who have no care for the restrictions based on cultural stereotypes. We know that racism was already prevalent in Sydney but these restrictions and the language used by our leaders further cement divisions that already existed in Sydney. The continuous labelling and targeting undermines the work that we have put in to bring together our communities. It is further solidifying the borders that divide us and it simply is not fair.
Yet the same energy has not been held when referring to the privileged areas of Sydney. People across social media and news outlets have created the rhetoric that the reason for the spread of the virus is because we, in the western suburbs, are not staying home and are instead visiting family and friends. The data reflects instead, that the main cause of the spread is from essential workers. A large proportion of workers in South-Western and Western Sydney are “Essential Workers”. We have one of the highest rates of workers who have contact with other people whether that may be in food services, nursing, retail or childcare. These are sectors where working from home is not possible. We are seeing the numbers in high socio-economic areas decrease and we know that one of the main reasons for this is because they have the ability to work from home. Areas such as the Northern Beaches, North Sydney, Sutherland, Eastern Suburbs and Ryde have the highest rate of employees that can work from home, those areas clearly have fewer Covid-19 cases. It should be of no surprise that for Western and South-Western Sydney, the numbers are higher yet people aren’t taking a deeper look at the issue.
I have seen the many images of Bondi and Manly beach that have been circulating on social media in recent weeks and when compared to our ghostly streets and parks, it is unfathomable that this behaviour is allowed and not looked down upon. I know that if this was to happen in South-West and Western Sydney there would be police, the riot squad and the army. The division between the different suburbs and localities are so clear. We are in unprecedented times that allow us to see the government for who they truly are and what they think of the areas that we live in.
The police presence is also a noticeable concern for us who live in the LGAs of concern. There has been an increase in police presence in the affected LGAs with road checks and officers able to impose larger fines for breaching public health orders. In addition to this, an increasing amount of Australian Defence Force personnel have deployed on top of the 300 already in NSW. This is an alarming response especially as many people in South-West Sydney are immigrants and refugees, those of which may not have had the best experiences with the military in their home country. The introduction of army personnel is a clear tactic from the government to instil fear in those who have army related trauma. The effects of these actions will have a lasting impact on the people living in the affected areas and the government’s choice to send ADF personnel to LGAs of concern is simply a quick solution rather than a sustainable one. The use of war-like language such as “boots on the ground” and “going door to door” also raises anxiety levels. The important thing is for the community and police/ADF to be working together to combat the spread of covid. The separation does not influence the ways in which we can work together but rather demonstrate how we are opposed.
But all of this brings us back to the question of why are there different restrictions and narratives in place when we have been told time and time again that we are all in this together? Why are different
expectations placed on different areas of Sydney? Why is this divide between parts of Sydney being actively broadened?
It can be answered with a simple word, privilege.
Let this not be the time where we turn our backs on South-West and Western Sydney but rather come together to fix this issue once and for all. Let’s hold everyone accountable. Not just a select few.
The Gap Widens by Amal Dib.