Supermarket giants are working furiously to feed a third of the population of a Victorian country town that has been trapped in Covid isolation for more than a week.
Shepparton, located on the floodplain of the Goulburn River in northern Victoria, on Friday remained a ghost town eight days after a Covid-19 outbreak was discovered, sending the entire state of Victoria into its sixth hard lockdown.
Australian Defence Force troops rolled into town on Thursday as desperate locals pleaded for emergency assistance amid food shortages resulting from the lockdown orders.
A soldier from the Australian Defence Force acts as back-up while Victorian health officials check on Shepparton people trapped in isolation on Friday
Those not ordered to isolate in Shepparton were finally able to get food on Friday. An outbreak of Covid there eight days ago locked down the entire state
With a third of the town of Shepparton forced into isolation, the town remained a ghost town on Friday
With supermarket shelf stackers, suppliers and other staff all ordered to quarantine for 14 days, online orders for basic essentials skyrocketed.
On Friday, Coles Online reported it had increased capacity by 350 per cent, with the number of vans delivering orders up from two to seven.
Trapped town folk are now receiving basic essentials from supermarkets in Wodonga, Bendigo and Craigieburn.
Shepparton News, which is providing residents with near minute-to-minute updates on the Covid crisis, has reported a 630 per cent volume increase on the usual number of Coles Online orders being delivered to homes in Shepparton on Friday.
As the crisis threatened to spiral out of control just yesterday, food was being trucked in from as far away as Melbourne.
While shelves appeared well stocked on Friday morning, by midday supplies of basic essentials such as bread and milk were beginning to dwindle.
The town’s plight made national news on Thursday when reports emerged that some residents had not been able to obtain food for days.
So dire was the situation that the town was left vulnerable to something as basic as fire, with 24 of its 30 Country Fire Authority firefighters in isolation.
One welfare organisation delivered more than 250 help packages on Thursday, with businesses as far away as Echuca on the NSW border chipping into help.
While thousands have already been tested in Shepparton, testing stations were relatively quiet on Friday
Members of the Navy have been deployed to Shepparton to help test thousands of locals
Shepparton residents line up for a coffee on Friday. Most of the town’s shops have been closed
The sound of silence remained over Shepparton on Friday with about 16000 people trapped in isolation – a third of the population
It was the day Victorian Premier Daniel Andrew dispatched the state’s deputy emergency management commissioner Deb Abbott, as well as other senior departmental officials, to Shepparton to co-ordinate relief.
Troops remain on the ground and on Friday could be seen going door-to-door backing up health officials as they checked to make sure the community was isolating as instructed.
About 70 ADF personnel will support testing and door-to-door checks over the next one-to-two weeks, with up to 25 members trained and deployed on Thursday afternoon.
About 16,000 residents in the region, which has a population of 65,000, are believed to be self-isolating, forcing the closure of food distributors, supermarkets and pharmacies due to staff shortages.
Goulburn Valley Health chief executive Matt Sharp said some local tier-one exposure sites, particularly those involving schools, could be downgraded early.
‘In the next 24 to 48 hours, I’m hopeful we might be able to see some of those exposure sites have their tier rating reclassified,’ he said on Friday.
ADF Personal are seen out the front of the Hospital in Shepparton as Covid numbers increased in Shepparton in Friday
Groceries are beginning to move again to trapped Shepparton people who have been forced to isolate
The bakery section of IGA in North Shepparton is seen looking mostly empty on Friday
While spirits in Shepparton have been buoyed somewhat by the increased availability of basic supplies, tension threatens to boil over among the town’s large indigenous community.
More than 6,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Shepparton community.
On Friday, indigenous rapper Adam Briggs threw fuel on the fire when he openly called the town ‘racist’ after a front page article by the Shepparton News failed to represent a member of the indigenous population in an article aimed at promoting community support.
‘Shepparton has the largest Indigenous population in Victoria. How’s our representation on the front page of Todays paper?’ he posted to Twitter.
‘The town I grew up in is Racist AF.’
His comments stirred a flurry of anger from sections of Shepparton’s Aboriginal community, who rallied behind his comments.
The publication quickly apologised to Briggs and the indigenous community.
‘This is a good point and a reminder media organisations can always strive to be more diverse and representative of their communities,’ it wrote.
‘I understand Briggs was on our initial list of contacts to reach out to. It is disappointing he wasn’t in our paper today as such a valued member of our community.’
indigenous rapper Adam Briggs was enraged by a news article that failed to represent Shepparton’s large Aboriginal community
Signs at the local IGA in North Shepparton informing customers of staff shortages due to isolation from the increasing Covid numbers
Coles was working overtime to restock supermarkets and get groceries out to those isolated in Shepparton on Friday
A woman goes for an early morning exercise around the Shepparton Lake on Friday
Others remain angry that they had been forced to isolate and effectively fend for themselves for days until relief arrived.
Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the government had taken too long to send help to suffering Shepparton residents.
‘Great Scomo & Gladys can help by going and stocking the shelves at woolies for me and helping my team members while I’m safe at home under my Stop and Stay Order,’ one Shepparton woman posted to social media on Friday.
‘People of Shepparton might need more than messages,’ another wrote.
Addressing reporters on Friday, Covid commander Jeroen Weimar conceded the spread of the virus throughout Shepparton had caught health officials off guard.
The town had gone almost a year without recording a single active case of the virus until this month.
‘We think we have good control and support around our contact tracing and response in Shepparton but it shows you how quickly these clusters can blow up in a short period of time,’ he said.
ADF staff test a Shepparton man for Covid-19 on Friday
Shepparton people trapped in isolation still have days to serve before they can be released
He praised locals for their response to the crisis, with three quarters of 6000 primary close contacts having returned negative test results and continuing with their isolation.
Several exposure sites have also been reviewed with some downgraded, including a primary school.
About 500 primary close contacts are expected to be released from isolation on Friday when they complete a negative test result.
‘We know of course how hard it is to isolate, particularly when so many people in the town are isolating at this point in time and I think in particular to the various local and statewide support services that are now working so hard to keep the Shepparton community safe and supported at this very difficult time,’ Mr Weimar said.
Goulburn Valley Health, in partnership with the Victorian Government and the Greater Shepparton City Council, will hold another online community information session tonight between 6pm and 7pm.
The forum will address the current situation in Greater Shepparton and emergency relief available to families and individuals.