The hundreds of Australian Defence Force personnel who are currently assisting New South Wales authorities with the state’s COVID-19 response have been fully vaccinated, according to the Department of Defence.
Three hundred ADF personnel joined the COVID-19 response effort in Sydney this week, where they have been delivering food parcels, conducting welfare and compliance checks, supporting COVID-19 testing clinics, and setting up vaccination stations.
In a statement on Tuesday, Defence noted that members would also assist with contact tracing efforts — like last year — and that any ADF members supporting NSW authorities had been fully vaccinated.
More than 40% of all ADF members were fully vaccinated in July.
NSW commander of Operation COVID-19 Assist Colonel Warwick Young said the ADF was privileged to be able to help stop the spread of COVID-19, and was working under the direction of NSW authorities.
“We have been assisting authorities in a range of areas since March last year and have developed a close working relationship with the NSW Police, NSW Health and other NSW government agencies, so we are well poised to provide assistance,” he said.
“Our personnel are not authorised as law enforcement officers nor are they able to enforce health orders, but they will play an important support role to enable police and other state authorities to get on with the jobs they do best.”
Corporal Andrew Stenning, who has been helping deliver food alongside NSW Police officers, has spoken positively about the ADF response.
“It is great to be able to help those people in need – who have been impacted by the COVID crisis – and provide them with these care packages of food and meals,” Stenning said.
“We have people who have lost incomes and savings as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown, and really need this type of support,” Fairfield council’s group manager David Niven added.
Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi has criticised the use of ADF members in Sydney, stating that it has brought her ‘terrifying memories of growing up mostly under a militarised political regime in Pakistan’ to the surface.
“There were check points, armed soldiers on the roads, neighbourhood patrols and people under house arrest. Anyone could be stopped at any time, targeted and imprisoned. People were surveilled and nationalism entrenched,” Faruqi wrote on Twitter.
“The militarisation of public health in Australia, in communities that are already going through these difficult lockdowns and the anxiety and stress of COVID-19 is just plain bastardry.
“Creating fear and threatening people when they are already vulnerable is cruel and has nothing to do with public health. What people need is support and reassurance, not fear and surveillance.”
NSW Police commissioner Mick Fuller requested the ADF assistance last week, when the state recorded a spike in new COVID-19 cases.
More than 5000 personnel have supported the whole-of-government response in NSW since Operation COVID-19 Assist began in March 2020.