Surveillance drones and more than 1,000 police will be deployed to locked-down suburbs in Melbourne, Australia as the southern state of Victoria struggles to control a fresh wave of COVID-19 outbreaks.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton announced on Thursday afternoon that officers from elite units—including highway patrol, mounted police, and the critical incident response team—will start patrolling targeted hotspots for 24 hours a day, in order to ensure local residents are following self-isolation orders.
Drones will be used to monitor public spaces, Patton added, and those caught in breach of the restrictions face fines of $1,652.
The announcement came just hours after the state government rolled out stage three “stay at home” restrictions in 36 suburbs throughout Melbourne’s north and west—effectively prohibiting some 300,000 people from leaving their homes except for the purposes of work, school, exercise, or buying essential supplies—as Victoria recorded its single biggest increase in community transmission since the pandemic began.
A total of 77 new cases were detected in the state on Thursday, 13 of which were linked to outbreaks and 31 of which were attributed to community transmission (that is, cases where the source of the infection cannot be traced). Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has previously warned that more areas could face heightened restrictions if the spike continues.
Locked-down suburbs were ringed off by police checkpoints on Thursday morning, with officers asking drivers to prove whether or not they belonged there. In an attempt to dupe these checkpoints, some residents of hotspot areas reportedly tried to change the address on their driver’s licence by providing false home addresses to VicRoads.
In regards to this behaviour, Chief Commissioner Patton warned that anyone attempting to falsify paperwork to evade the lockdown measures faced jail terms of up to 10 years. Police will also start using automatic number plate recognition technology to scan driver's cars and detect anyone travelling to or from restricted areas.
"We will be fining people, there is no doubt about that. For those selfish enough to disregard these warnings from the CHO [Chief Health Officer] … we will be infringing them,” he said. “The window of police discretion is a very small window at the moment, I can assure you, and it's rapidly closing.
"While we may have been very lenient in recent times … for the safety of the public that leniency is dissipating day by day.”
Victoria recorded its 17th straight day of double-digit coronavirus case increases on Friday, with another 66 people diagnosed overnight.