Covid-19 and Overcrowding in Sydney’s South-West

Sydney’s South-West has been subject to unprecedented Covid-related restrictions over the past week. Residents who leave the Fairfield Local Government Area for any reason, including work, must have a negative Covid-19 test from the previous 72 hours, two-hour waits at the local testing clinic notwithstanding.

The restrictions have been compared to the sudden lock-down of the North Melbourne public housing towers last year. Fairfield is in the bottom quintile nation-wide in the census index of relative social advantage.

South-Western Sydney is also the most multicultural area in Australia. About 40% of residents are first-generation migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds, mainly Arabic, Spanish and Vietnamese speakers.

This has led to a lot of speculation about the rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the area; 54 of Sydney’s record 124 new cases on Thursday were from the South-West. Some have lamented the belated implementation of multilingual public health information; others have lent on clichés and stereotypes.

Overlooked in all this has been the increasingly overcrowded housing situation. In the census, overcrowding is defined as when at least three more rooms would be required to house a household comfortably.

From 2011 to the most recent census in 2016, overcrowding in Fairfield increased by 61%. In the neighbouring councils of Canterbury-Bankstown and Liverpool, overcrowding increased by 86% and 36% respectively.

This data is reflected in the increasing proportion of Covid-19 infections that occur within the same household as the virus has spread from the east to the south-west of Sydney.

This shows up the short-sightedness of heavy-handed policing in the area and its ignorance of structural causes. One viral video showed more than 20 police cars in two adjoining suburban streets in Fairfield.

Screenshot via Humans of Bankstown Facebook page.

Needless to say, if Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs had been locked down anywhere near as quickly and severely, the virus would never have spread to the extent it has. As we have already seen so often, the coronavirus is serving as a stress test that shows up the faultlines in our society.

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