Australia has endured an outbreak of the COVID-19 Delta variant since early June and some parts of the country, such as the major city of Sydney in the state of New South Wales (NSW), have imposed strict lockdowns on citizens to try and stop the spread of the virus.
The lockdowns reportedly haven’t proven particularly effective, in part due to widespread non-compliance, so Sydney leaders have called in Australian military troops to provide assistance to local police in enforcing the limitations on movement and gatherings, The Daily Caller reported.
The undeniably heavy-handed response comes as the city of several million has experienced only a few thousand new cases of COVID-19 and suffered only a handful of deaths from the disease since the start of the year, per data from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Australian Defense Force deployed
On Thursday, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller confirmed in a statement that he had requested the deployment of at least 300 Australian Defense Force (ADF) troops to aid in the enforcement of the lockdown orders in Sydney, which are set to become even stricter.
“With an increase in enforcement activity over the coming week, I have now made a formal request to the Prime Minister for ADF personnel to assist with that operation,” Fuller said.
David Elliot, the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, joined Fuller in the statement to confirm that the requested military assistance will happen.
“As I have said previously, support from the Army will add another line of defence to the NSW Government’s crackdown on COVID-19 compliance,” Elliot said. “The Army’s unique skills and training have combined many times with those of our police officers to serve the people of NSW in times of crisis, such as the floods and severe bushfires we’ve experienced in recent years. This will be a functional, effective and dynamic team to fight this pandemic.”
“Dangerous precedent” set
The BBC reported that the ADF troops were expected to undergo training over the weekend before beginning unarmed patrols on Monday to assist in policing the general public for compliance with the harsh lockdown orders that many Sydney residents strenuously oppose and have flaunted.
The lockdown of most of the populous city has already been in place for five weeks and is expected to remain in place until at least the end of August.
The deployment of military troops to enforce the lockdown orders has been decried as an unnecessary and “dangerous precedent” by the Australian Lawyers Alliance in a statement Thursday.
“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,” ALA spokesman Greg Barns SC said. “We understand that public health emergencies require the government to take extraordinary measures but using the military to enforce local laws sets a dangerous precedent.”
“Using the defence force to ensure compliance by Australians or to deter civil disobedience is a concerning use of our armed forces,” he added. “The role of any police or enforcement agencies should be help meet the needs of residents so they don’t have to break the rules.”