“Of course they had to be locked down with no warning. Otherwise they would all have left, endangering the rest of us.”
Some version of this sentiment was a common riposte to the key finding in my report, released last Thursday, that the immediacy of the lockdown of public housing towers in July violated the residents’ human rights. I have no concerns about anyone disagreeing with my findings; it is an Ombudsman’s job to make reasoned decisions based on evidence, not to be popular (those with a genuine interest in the issues can read my 250-plus page report and make up their own minds about what happened and why).
But these comments perpetuate the stereotyping of public housing residents in much the same way as did, according to the evidence gathered by my investigation, the government officials who may have been involved in or informing the decision to start the lockdown without forewarning. So let me put forward a few facts from the report that may have been missed, and some further commentary of my own.
One, the risk of people fleeing the towers wasn’t the official reason for the immediate lockdown, as far as we know – noting the government still has not shared the reasons for its decision. We do know it wasn’t based on the advice of the most senior public health official on the day. Even though she was terribly worried about the situation she did not think an additional day to prepare would make a significant difference to controlling the outbreak.