As Australia unleashes Army on citizens to implement COVID lockdown, concerns rise regarding civil rights violations

Australia sends in army to control COVID-19 in Sydney(Image Courtesy: BBC)

Amidst the renewed wave of COVID-19 outbreak, fuelled by newer variants of coronavirus, Australia has deployed hundreds of soldiers in Sydney to help enforce a strict lockdown. The city is witnessing the highest number of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began last year.

Australian forces are set to undergo training on the weekends before being deployed for unarmed patrols starting Monday. As per reports, 300 police personnel will prowl the streets of Sydney, in a bid to contain the spread of the virus and ensure people who have tested positive for the virus are isolating.

The decision means that Australia’s largest city—home to approximately five million people—will witness a military and police cover across its length and breadth. However, the police cover will be concentrated on eight local government districts in the city’s west, the region most affected by the virus and from where most new cases have been reported.

The inexorable spike in the cases, driven by the Delta variant, has led the authorities to issue a strict stay at home order. The local administration wants tighter restrictions for the worst-affected suburbs, including mandatory testing and mask-wearing outdoors.

The city is already under lockdown until 28 August, during which people are barred from leaving their home except for essential exercise, shopping, caregiving and other reasons. Despite five weeks of lockdown, infections in Sydney have steadily risen, with 170 new cases reported on Friday.

The irrepressible rise in the COVID caseloads is also one of the reasons why the government has opted for military intervention. However, many have called the government’s move of using military forces to ensure compliance as heavy-handed. They fear that using Army could lead to human rights violations.

Rights groups, on the other hand, believe that sending in troops to make sure believe obey to state mandate sets a “dangerous precedent” in a liberal democracy. Similarly, many on social media platforms have also raised concerns about the use of the Army to enforce a strict lockdown.

The use of army to ensure lockdown compliance in Sydney, Australia sparks concerns

Reacting to the decision of deploying military troops in Sydney, a Twitter user said the government should have used them in setting up vaccine clinics in a country where the pace of vaccination is woefully slow. He further added that the troops should not repeat the racist human rights violations that were witnessed in Melbourne’s public housing towers last year.

Another user said it is pure ongoing madness that the army is being used to enforce lockdown. He added that pandemics are ended with vaccinations and not Army patrols.

Yet another user said it is a bad use of the Australian army for having them police their own citizens and patrol the streets of Sydney.

Expressing his disapproval of the government’s decision to use the army for managing civilians, a Twitter user wondered about the ongoing court case against a highly decorated soldier in Australia accused of committing war crimes and murdering a bunch of civilians.

Karly Wener, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Services, said the surge in COVID cases calls for skills held by social workers and Aboriginal community-controlled organisations and not the armed forces. She further added that the Aboriginal community is targeted day in and day out by the armed forces and the attacks will only get worse if the police are given additional powers and backed up by the army.

The outbreak is mostly prevalent among critical workers and large family groups in the city’s poorer and ethnically diverse west and south-west suburbs. Critics claim the residents of the region already face “targeted” policing measures. They highlighted that they are already harsher than the rest of Sydney.

“Our people are one of the poorest demographics, and as it is, they already feel picked on and marginalised,” said Steve Christou, one local mayor.

Others blamed the government for using forces to elicit obedience instead of using their services for expanding the pace of vaccination. So far only 17 per cent of Australia’s adult population has been vaccinated, which is one of the lowest among OECD nations.

OpIndia Staff: Staff reporter at OpIndia