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Australia deploys helicopters, hundreds of troops to keep people at home in strict new lockdowns in Sydney

NSW Police Constable Tanisha Riley and Australian Army Private Darren Ellis deliver care packages to homes. (Photo by CPL Dustin Anderson, Australian Department of Defence, Australian Commonwealth)
August 02, 2021

Around 300 Australian Defence Force (ADF) soldiers were deployed alongside police over the weekend in New South Wales to help police enforce strict new coronavirus lockdowns. Police helicopters have also been seen in the area, ordering residents to comply with lockdown restrictions.

Australian broadcaster ABC reported the soldiers arrived in the city of Sydney over the weekend and underwent training and would begin going door to door in Sydney by Monday to check that residents are complying with the lockdown orders.

The Daily Mail reported in Sydney’s western suburbs residents saw police helicopters hovering overhead while sounding sirens and broadcasting the message, “This is public health order —do not break rules —you will be found and fines issued.”

One video reposted by Australian journalist Avi Yemini shows a man exclaiming “what the f–k” before showing helicopters flying overhead and sounding warning messages to the public. The video was originally posted by TikTok user bankstown2200 over the weekend.

The arrival of ADF troops and other enforcement measures comes more than a month after the New South Wales (NSW) government ordered new coronavirus restrictions on June 23. On July 14, the NSW government extended the lockdown orders through July 30. The lockdowns in Sydney have again been extended until at least Aug. 28.

The lockdown rules include a mask mandate, even for some outdoor places. People may leave their homes to get groceries and medicine or to go to hospitals. Only one person per household is permitted to leave their home per day to get groceries. People are allowed to go to school or work only if they cannot work and study from home. People may go outdoors to exercise but are not allowed to travel more than 10k from their homes (about 6 miles).

People in greater Sydney, the Central Coast, Blue Mountains and Wollongong to other areas in NSW. People outside of greater Sydney also cannot enter greater Sydney except for a funeral or memorial service, or for goods or services if those goods or services are not reasonably available outside of the greater Sydney area. People over the age of 18 leaving the greater Sydney area must also carry evidence showing their address and be prepared to provide it to police.

NSW Police Minister David Elliott said the new troop deployment was necessary due to a small minority of people who thought “the rules didn’t apply to them.”

“It’s no different to what we saw in Melbourne last year where the police worked hand in glove with the military to ensure they could have that intelligence-based compliance checks done quickly and swiftly,” Elliott said.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said, “There’s 2,000 doors we have to knock so to bring Defence in made logistical sense.”

“We can double the amount of checks we do in a day by doing a police officer with a member of the ADF,” Fuller said. “They don’t come with powers and they won’t be carrying firearms but they come with an enormous amount of training, very disciplined, they understand the task.”

The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA), a civil rights group, said, “The government must urgently explain the nature of the request to the defence force and outline what defence force personnel will be doing to help manage the response to the virus

“Using the military to enforce local laws sets a dangerous precedent,” the ALA added. “Using the defence force to ensure compliance by Australians or to deter civil disobedience is a concerning use of our armed forces.”

Critics of the ADF deployment have also said the new lockdowns heavily impact the city’s poor and ethnically diverse west and south-west suburbs, the BBC reported.

“I’m not a fan of sending in the Army if they’re there to enforce lockdowns on their own people,” Steve Christou, the Cumberland City Council Mayor told Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service. “I just think it’s a bad look and it’s demoralizing, especially to residents that have been suffering the last five or six weeks.”