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‘COVID came and everything changed’: businesses face closure in south-west Sydney

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“We don’t know if we can survive for much longer. At the moment we survive month by month,” she said. “We’ve been in this business almost thirty years but never seen it happen like this. If the government helped us we might survive.”

“From the beginning, we had no customers. Then we built up to have regular customers and COVID came and everything changed. My heart is set on this shop.”

Shop owners said police had been patrolling the streets of Sydney’s south-west to ensure people are complying with the stay-at-home orders as part of a major operation launched on Friday morning. Mounted units, traffic and highway patrol and helicopters have all been deployed in the operation.

NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Mal Lanyon said the crackdown was necessary because of acute concerns about very high virus transmission rates between households in the large region spanning three local government areas.

He welcomed the community’s response to the warnings about the spread of the highly contagious Delta strain and said compliance with the public health orders appeared very high on Friday.

“We are seeing less people moving around in the community in the southwestern suburbs. We are seeing significantly less people gathering in … shopping centers, malls, business districts. And the interactions with the community so far have been excellent,” Mr Lanyon told the Herald.

NSW Mounted Police patrol the streets of Fairfield during the lockdown.

NSW Mounted Police patrol the streets of Fairfield during the lockdown. Credit:Kate Geraghty

“We’re absolutely welcoming and thanking the community for their initial support. That type of compliance is absolutely vital to ensuring we can stop the spread of the virus.”

Between 7am and 3.30pm, officers issued eight fines and 51 warnings in the city’s southwest and conducted 87 business inspections. No one was arrested or charged.

The announcement of the operation targeting the area was immediately met with concerns about unfair attention on local communities that are more diverse and less affluent than elsewhere in Sydney.

Greens MPs and lawyers labelled the operation over-policing of vulnerable communities, calling instead for improved communication and support to increase compliance with public health orders.

NSW Mounted Police patrol the streets of Fairfield.

NSW Mounted Police patrol the streets of Fairfield.Credit:Kate Geraghty

“All communities need equal access to health information, resources and support to get through this difficult time. Increasing penalties to lower economic areas is not the answer,” Redfern Legal Centre solicitor Samantha Lee said.

Opposition police spokesman Walt Secord blamed the state government for poor communication on the stay-at-home order and said police had a tough job.

“The NSW Police are the meat in the sandwich due to the poorly communicated health orders,” he said.

Police noted that multicultural liaison officers have been working in south-west Sydney to boost compliance and information on the public health orders had been made available in 60 languages.

“This is not picking on any particular race or ethnicity or religion. This is really focusing to make sure we get compliance in that southwest metropolitan area, simply because of the areas of concern,” Mr Lanyon said.

He said similar operations involving extra police resources, including mounted units, had been launched in the northern beaches and eastern beaches in response to outbreaks in the areas. He said southwest Sydney was also a very large area and needed more personnel to police.

Mr Lanyon said that police had also not taken their eye off the ball in other parts of Sydney as there were other areas of concern and the entire city was under lockdown conditions. Authorities are particularly concerned about the spread of the virus further south into the Hurstville area.

City of Canterbury Bankstown mayor Khal Asfour said he was not against police enforcing the public health order, bu he did oppose the language that had been used.

“[NSW Police] say we are all in this together, but my community feels the tough talk only refers to them,” he said.“This issue is not just an issue in southwest Sydney, there appears to be complacency across the entire metropolitan area… Our community is no different to any other when it comes to following health advice.

He urged the community to stay at home unless essential and to follow the health advice.

“I have family and relatives that I would like to visit, in fact my mother is currently in hospital and my father is at home – and I can’t visit either,” he said.

Frank’s Lebanese Restaurant owner Frank Abdo says is determined to say open throughout the lockdown if he can.

Frank’s Lebanese Restaurant owner Frank Abdo says is determined to say open throughout the lockdown if he can.Credit:Kate Geraghty

Frank’s Lebanese Restaurant owner Frank Abdo said he had seen a 60 to 70 per cent reduction in his Fairfield business since lockdown, but is determined to stay open.

He said most people in the area will do daily grocery shopping, often seeing friends along the way. But during the past two days, the streets have been significantly quieter.

“In all these areas, people sit down at night and walk in Fairfield. That is why police are cracking down,” he said.

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