News from a cluster in a "locked down suburb"

Mike Doyle is the Anglican minister in Berala, the small Sydney suburb that is in the news as a covid cluster.

Well – it’s good news … only four locally acquired cases in NSW, three linked to Berala. This is not just good news – it’s great news! Numbers are heading in the right direction, and it’s looking good.

Overnight they declared everyone who has visited Berala Woolies over a 10 day period a “casual contact” and ordered everyone to get tested (and lock down until you get a result). As most people living in Berala visit that Woolies almost daily, it’s essentially locked down the suburb.

(And note: We play Rugby League here – not cricket – I don’t think any of us were planning to be at the test anyway!)

Auburn Hospital and the A6 drive through testing sites are packed out, as is Homebush. I highly recommended heading to Merrylands – I had my “day 12” test there this morning, with no waiting.

I heard someone note that the testing numbers in Berala have been a little low. That doesn’t surprise me, for a whole range of reasons.

1) Language Issues: In our local Local Government Area (LGA) about 80 per cent of our households speak a language other than English. Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese and Arabic are our top 5 languages, with a fairly even spread. Since Gladys is yet to run any of her press conferences in any of those languages, we’re going to struggle to be truly “multicultural” and reach those language groups.

My estimate is 40 per cent of the workers in our church lost their income.

2) Job issues: Another reason testing numbers may be low is the effect COVID and getting tested has on many of our community members. When Australia went into lock down in March a huge number in our suburb lost their jobs, and many didn’t have government assistance to fall back on. My estimate is 40 per cent of the workers in our church lost their income.

Why so many job losses? The Berala LGA is the second most socially-economic disadvantaged areas in the wider Sydney area. This means our workers are generally casual and in jobs that can’t be done at home. You can’t paint houses, clean offices, serve drinks etc “from home”. Working from home is a white-collar things and those in the blue collar workforce just can’t do it.

But many in Berala also work in the black economy. Cash only. Some don’t have work visas, or are refugees. This means there’s no JobKeeper, no JobSeeker, no government grants or bail outs. Did you know when the JobSeeker rates were lifted, refugee payments weren’t?

This means that not only are many out of work but, if they take a test – and need to stop working for 1-5 days (or 14 days if they visited BWS) – then they’re out of work and lose income. There’s some government help but it’s not available to everyone and hard to access if you struggle to speak English.

3) Another issue that may affect testing is actually getting to a testing site. Many here don’t have cars – and it’s not easy to go to a “drive in” testing site when you don’t have a car! And generally, if you think you may be infected, it’s not a good call to catch public transport!

4) The cost of testing can also be prohibited. Cost? What do you mean cost? If you don’t have a Medicare card, it costs to get tested! Some of the people I know are reluctant to get tested because of the cost!

Now, it should be noted that in the press conference they’ve told us “it’s free”, but I’ve heard reports on the ground that some people have been told they need to pay, and been turned away when they couldn’t. Sometimes what’s said in press conferences and press releases doesn’t actually get to the ground level.

Yet in all of this, many have gotten tested. And, let me point out, it so far seems that everyone in Berala has “done the right thing”. This isn’t a case of people escaping quarantine to head to their holiday houses, or hiding the fact they got sick. People have stepped up, and come forward.

Well done Berala! You’re all legends!


Some prayer points to help

Please pray for

• The frontline workers, at the Berala pop up test site in particular

• For all self isolating

• For Berala’s community leaders