Police, reinforced by the military, are out on the empty streets in western Sydney, making sure the hard lockdown is adhered to in some of Australia’s most migrant-heavy neighbourhoods where Covid-19 infections are greatest.
About three-quarters of New South Wales state’s nearly 5,000 active cases come from nine Sydney local government districts, urban sprawl stretching from about 12 km (7.5 miles) southwest of the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the Blue Mountains foothills.
To the east, however, on the sands of Bondi Beach, one of Sydney’s wealthiest suburbs, surfers and seaside walkers jostle for space, while joggers clog the nearby promenade and fitness buffs huddle around public exercise equipment.
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As Australia’s largest city struggles to contain its worst outbreak of the pandemic, the harsher restrictions and tougher policing in its most-affected neighbourhoods have stoked resentment. That feeling is especially raw since the Delta outbreak began in Bondi, with an unmasked, unvaccinated airport driver.
Though the whole East Coast city of 5 million is in lockdown, around 1.8 million in its ethnically diverse west are banned from leaving their immediate surroundings and doing any face-to-face work. Authorised workers must be tested every three days, and masks are mandatory outside homes.
The rest of the city is getting by with construction and property maintenance allowed, fewer movement restrictions and with masks not required outdoors. Schools, which have been closed citywide since June, are returning everywhere but the west.
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“So, basically, double standards. One rule applies for the west, one rule applies for the east, another rule applies for the north. It’s hard. But what do we do?” said restaurant owner Abdul Eldick. He has owned a Lebanese restaurant for 12 years.
Restaurants across the city are banned from seating customers and rely on takeaway to survive, but the reduced income in the west, coupled with restricted movement, has severely dented sales.
“I don’t need the governments money. I can make my own money, just give me back my business,” Eldick said.
The west, where three-quarters of residents in some suburbs are overseas-born, contributes about 7% to the A$1.6 trillion ($1.2 trillion) national economy, with major logistics and manufacturing hubs there, according to Business Western Sydney (BWS), an industry association. Before the lockdowns, three-quarters of the area’s 1 million workers left their neighbourhoods daily to go to jobs.
Residents of Bondi, which went through a hard lockdown last year, were sympathetic.
“I feel for them, horribly. I think it’s really tough and as I say, I think there’s a lot of people out there that need to go to work. They’re doing a lot more of, kind of building site jobs, hospitality jobs and that’s tough. If you’re wondering where the rent’s coming from, you’ve got to go out and do stuff,” said Bondi resident Ben Peacock.
Bilal El-Hayek, a councillor from the city’s west, now spends most days helping to deliver food packages to people who don’t qualify for pandemic-related support payments, with his friend Amer Yassine, a laid-off travel agent.
“We’ve got to bear in mind as well that the people that we deliver to have, some of them have nobody, so we’re the only contact they have for that whole week or for that whole day,” said El-Hayek. He goes to homes of those who need help five days a week to see how they are coping and to make sure they have enough to eat.
On Monday (August 9), New South Wales expanded its Covid-19 lockdown to the rural town of Tamworth based on concerns the virus may have spread from Sydney into the countryside. The state reported 283 locally acquired cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, up from 262 cases a day earlier.
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