International students going through ‘hell’ trying to survive Melbourne’s coronavirus lockdown

In March, Raiyan Chowdhury was a young man who felt in control of his life.

He was settled in Chadstone in Melbourne’s south-east, was studying to be a chef and was also working part time at a pub.

But when the pandemic struck, he lost his job, ran out of savings and then lost his housing.

That was all before he got a message from home telling him his entire family in Bangladesh was sick with COVID-19.

“It was feeling like hell,” he says of his experience.

He says he became so depressed, that outside of calls to his parents, he didn’t speak to anyone for a month.

Raiyan thought about going home, but that was also complicated.

It would mean giving up on his dream of becoming a chef in Melbourne, something he’d already made big sacrifices to achieve, and returning to his parents who were struggling financially because of the pandemic.

Bit by bit, he has instead found a way to keep going in Melbourne.

The 19-year-old got help from his school and a $1,100 Victorian government emergency funding grant he says he is extremely grateful for.

The teen now hires an electric bike so he can deliver food for Uber Eats and is renting a couch to sleep on in a share house in West Footscray.

He is still facing challenges — his bike was stolen while he was working, leaving him with a $600 bill — but he is paying that back and managing to just get by.

No income support for international students

Raiyan is not the only international student facing difficult circumstances.

Many students have lost work because of the pandemic but can’t access JobKeeper or JobSeeker.

Some government and university grants are available, and students who have worked for more than 12 months can access their superannuation.

In April, Prime Minister Scott Morrison sounded a warning to international students and those on visitor visas, saying they should return home if they could no longer support themselves because the Australian Government needed to focus on supporting its own citizens and residents through the pandemic.

Some international students did leave and education providers say more are planning to.

Other students are managing on their savings or with the support of their families.

But many students are falling between the survive or go home options.

They’re running out of money in Australia, but say going home is not a simple solution because of the difficulty in booking international flights at this time, the cost of flights, the risk of COVID-19 in their home countries and the fear of losing their visa or educational opportunities.

It’s left many reliant on charity to survive.

Church supporting ‘Melbourne’s new poor’

Each morning between 50 and 80 international students make their way to St Peter’s Eastern Hill, a small but very old church tucked behind Victoria’s Parliament House.

Here they can collect free meals, bread, eggs and even a coffee.

An international student in a hooded jumper receives a food package from the stall.
Meals provided through Victoria’s Parliament House kitchens are being handed out to international students in need at St Peter’s Eastern Hill Anglican Church.(ABC News: Billy Draper)

So far, more than 40,000 meals have been given out since the pandemic started.

Reverend Hugh Kempster — or Father Hugh as he is known — has spoken to international students who were down to their last potato or onion, before coming to the church for help.

Father Hugh Kempster stands outside a brick building wearing a face mask and jacket.
Father Hugh Kempter at the church’s food stall, where students leave messages of thanks.(ABC News: Billy Draper)

Father Hugh tells the story of one woman he met at the food collection, to explain how tough a time some international students are having.

Another student was living in a garage after contracting COVID-19 because he had nowhere else to go that was away from housemates.

Father Hugh describes international students as “Melbourne’s new poor”.

Yellow post-it notes of appreciation are taped to a white board.
The efforts of those at the St Peter’s food stall are warmly appreciated.(ABC News: Billy Draper)

Former international student handing out free hot pot meals

Just behind RMIT University sits Panda Hot Pot, a big ornate restaurant that is in the old Dracula’s building on Victoria Street.

Yi Li stands behind the bench of his kitchen, wearing a face mask.
Panda Hot Pot restaurant owner Yi Li says international students supported his business when it opened last year, and he wants to offer free meals as thanks.(ABC News: Billy Draper)

Owner Yi Li says the restaurant staff started handing out 40 free hot pot meals to international students each Tuesday during lockdown.

Students started lining up for a meal two hours before the collection time.

An ornate gold restaurant front, with a long line of about 20 people waiting for food, all distanced out.
Panda Hot Pot restaurant now organises its free meal service online, with meals usually booking out within an hour of being advertised.(Supplied)

Mr Li says he has increased the number of meals being given to international students because of that need and he is about to team up with university clubs to deliver meals to students living outside the restaurant’s 5-kilometre radius.

The restaurant owner came to Australia originally as an international student and says he hopes the hot pot meals show students others care about them and what they are going through.

Just like Melbourne’s struggling restaurants, Mr Li wants to see international students get through this second lockdown and be part of the city’s journey back to a new normal.

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AFL investigates potential coronavirus rules breach involving Melbourne’s Harley Bennell

The Melbourne Football Club says it is investigating a potential breach of the AFL’s COVID-19 protocols involving player Harley Bennell.

In a statement, the club said it had notified the AFL, which was investigating the matter.

“Whilst the club and the AFL are in the process of establishing the facts, Harley will remain in an off-site isolation location, to remove any possibility of contaminating the Twin Waters high performance hub,” the club’s statement said.

“As the matter is being investigated, the club is not in a position to comment further.”

The league’s Victorian teams are based in Queensland hubs to enable the competition to continue during the pandemic, but they must abide by a set of COVID-19 protocols to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

A number of players and clubs have been penalised for breaches of those protocols since the arrangement was struck, including four teams that received large fines at the end of July.

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Melbourne’s Casey cluster grows to 40 cases

There have also been two more confirmed coronavirus cases in NSW diagnosed in the 24 hours to 8pm last night.

There has also been a new death in the state, after a man in his 70s whose COVID-19 infection was linked to the Sydney CBD cluster passed away on Saturday.

The man’s death at Royal North Shore Hospital was the first in the state for five weeks, and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian extended her “deepest condolences” to his loved ones during a press conference today.

“He got the disease from one of the CBD clusters recently and unfortunately succumbed to the disease and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this very difficult time,” she said.

One of the new NSW cases is a returned overseas traveller in hotel quarantine, while one is locally acquired.

Early investigations indicate that infection may have been picked up at Liverpool Hospital, and thanks to the CovidSafe App, it is understood the patient visited a range of locations including Campbelltown Golf Club, Glen Alpine on September 16 from 2pm-4.30pm, Milton Ulladulla Ex Servos Club on September 12 from 2pm-6.15pm, Carlo’s Italian Restaurante Bar & Seafood, Ulladulla on September 12 from 8pm-9.30pm, Bannisters Pavilion Rooftop Bar & Grill, Mollymook on September 13 from 12.30pm-2.15pm and Mama Wok, MacArthur Square Campbelltown on September 9 from 1:30pm-2:30pm.

Anyone who attended those venues at the same time for at least an hour is considered to be a close contact and must get tested and self-isolate for 14 days.

Meanwhile, anyone who visited Picnic Point Bowling Club on September 18 from 3pm-6pm, Campbelltown Golf Club course Glen Alpine on September 16 from 9.30am-2pm and Wray St Oyster Shed Batemans Bay on September 12 from 12 pm-1pm is considered to be a casual contact.

The person also drove a taxi for a number of days while potentially infectious. People who caught a taxi on September 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 in Moorebank, Bankstown, Chipping Norton, Liverpool, Lidcombe, Warwick Farm and Milperra must monitor for symptoms and if any develop immediately get tested.

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Man dies and suspected attacker flees the scene after stabbing in Melbourne’s South Yarra

A man has died and his suspected attacker has fled the scene after a stabbing in Melbourne’s inner south-east overnight.

Police said it was believed two men were involved in a fight at the intersection of Essex Street and Malvern Road in South Yarra at about 11:00pm on Friday.

A man, believed to be in his 40s, was found with suspected stab wounds to his upper body.

He was taken to hospital, where he later died.

“The other man fled the scene,” a Victoria Police spokesman said.

Homicide Squad detectives are investigating the circumstances surrounding the death and the altercation.

A housing complex on Malvern Road was blocked off as police attended the scene. Crime scene tape extended for blocks surrounding the intersection.

Sections of Malvern Road remained closed to traffic into Saturday morning.

Anyone who witnessed the incident or has dashcam footage of the area on Friday night is urged to contact Crime Stoppers.

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Melbourne’s 14-day rolling average falls below 50

Melbourne’s 14-day rolling average has now officially fallen below 50 – a number with huge significance as the government’s roadmap stated the city could potentially ease restrictions by September 28 if the average fell to between 30 and 50 per day.

The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the rolling average in Metropolitan Melbourne was now 49.6, a drop from yesterday’s 52.9.

That drop is definitely a cause for celebration, although it is unlikely it will see Melbourne ease restrictions earlier than the September 28 deadline.

Earlier today, epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely warned against lifting restrictions too early, claiming it could “blow out” the recovery plan.

And Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton previously said the September 28 date wouldn’t change even if the rolling average continued to fall.

“We need that time for the [policy] settings that we have, but I am very confident we will be in the 30 to 50 range for average daily cases,” he said on Monday.

“If it is in the 20 to 30 range, all the better.”

The state has also finally dipped below 1000 active cases.

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Police shoot man at Lilydale Marketplace Shopping Centre in Melbourne’s outer east

Police have shot a man who was allegedly armed with “an edged weapon” at the Lilydale Marketplace shopping centre in Melbourne’s outer east.

Ambulance Victoria said paramedics were called to Lilydale at about 8:45am.

A man was “believed to be in a serious condition” and being treated for upper body injuries, Ambulance Victoria said in a statement.

Victoria Police said officers were called to Hutchinson Street in Lilydale at about 8:30am, following reports of a “a man armed with an edged weapon”.

A woman who was passing the Lilydale Marketplace on a walk told 3AW she saw a man “brandishing quite a large knife” outside a chemist shop.

“[He] was standing there for about five minutes, obviously surrounded by police, but now he’s decided to go walking through the car park,” she told the radio station about two minutes before gunshots were heard.

“There are guns drawn and they’re yelling at him to put the knife down, but he doesn’t seem interested in that.”

Victoria Police said the incident was now under an internal investigation.

More to come.

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Victoria Police refer man’s arrest in Melbourne’s north to Professional Standards Command

The arrest of a man in Melbourne’s north which was captured on video by a passing motorist has been referred to Victoria Police’s Professional Standards Command.

The video, posted to social media, appears to show an officer stomping on the man’s head with his foot.

The footage shows five officers surrounding the man and holding him down on a median strip.

A police spokeswoman said officers were called to reports of a man behaving erratically at Cooper Street, Epping, about 4:10pm yesterday.

“Upon arrival the male allegedly became aggressive and damaged a police vehicle whilst attempting to avoid arrest,” the spokeswoman said.

“During the highly dynamic incident a police officer was assaulted and OC spray was deployed before the 32-year-old man, of no fixed address, was arrested and subsequently taken to hospital for assessment.

“The arrest has been referred to Professional Standards Command for oversight.”

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Melbourne’s coronavirus case average down as Victoria records 43 new cases and nine deaths

Metropolitan Melbourne’s 14-day coronavirus daily case average has dropped for the fourth day in a row, as regional Victoria remains “poised” to potentially skip a step when reopening.

Victoria has recorded 43 new cases of coronavirus and nine deaths overnight, taking the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 710.

A woman in her 50s was among those who died. The other fatalities were a woman in her 70s, three men in their 80s, and four women in their 90s.

The 14-day daily case average is 65.3 in metropolitan Melbourne and 4.7 in regional Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews said.

“Regional Victoria is poised to take at least a step and potentially two steps,” he said.

“We will have more to say about that next week as we get closer to that 14-day marker.”

This is the fourth consecutive day the official 14-day daily case average in metropolitan Melbourne has dropped.

On Monday, the first day the State Government included the number in its daily update, the city had a 14-day average of 84.8.

It fell to 78.6 on Tuesday, 74.5 on Wednesday, then 70.1 by yesterday.

Yesterday the state reported 51 new infections and seven deaths.

‘Great cause for optimism’ in regional Victoria

Colac recorded four new infections overnight and now has 33 active cases, while Greater Geelong recorded one new infection and now has 10 active cases.

Although the total number of active cases in regional Victoria rose by two to 74 overnight, the Premier said rural areas were doing a “mighty job”.

“There is great cause for optimism and to be hopeful that what’s happened in regional Victoria is proof positive that this strategy can work, is working, and will continue to work,” he said.

Victorian regions under stage 3 restrictions are set to have some rules eased this Sunday, and the next trigger point is recording a 14-day average below five cases per day and going two weeks without a “mystery” infection.

Some business owners in regions that have already gone weeks without recording any coronavirus cases at all have called for restrictions to be relaxed even sooner.

But when pressed about the issue today, Mr Andrews said having different settings in place across different parts of regional Victoria would present a challenge.

“The science — the data — tells you we’re on the cusp of regional Victoria being able to take that step [of relaxing restrictions] anyway,” he said.

“I’m not asking regional Victorians to wait three months or two months. We might be able to take these steps as early as next week.”

More to come.

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Conor McKenna’s criticism of Melbourne’s AFL media puts its integrity under the spotlight

The now former Essendon footballer Conor McKenna is from what AFL recruiters like to call a “non-traditional football background”.

This is the catchphrase for the diminishing number of players who were not identified by private school scouts playing for their local under-12s, awarded scholarships aimed at promoting lavish sports programs then drafted a few months after skolling their first legal drink.

Those who undergo this process are groomed from an early age to adhere to, and publicly advocate, the expectations that come with their apparently privileged and lucrative position.

This includes a relatively strict behavioural code, the contractual obligation to go to the club that picks them rather than one they might favour and a tacit agreement they will become public property subject to the harsh judgement of fans and the constant scrutiny of the media.

This is why McKenna’s uncomfortable experience in the AFL this season and his strident sentiments upon retirement were significant. Occasionally, it is illuminating to see what we have come to take for granted through the eyes of an outsider.

McKenna, a 24-year-old from County Tyrone, Ireland, grew up playing Gaelic football, which is the subject of obsessive media coverage and ferocious fan debate despite not offering the same substantial wages available in the AFL.

So when McKenna came to Australia he was at least partly prepared for the constant thrumming media noise created by the AFL in the heartland states.

Unlike his “traditional pathway” teammates, however, McKenna did not expect to be subjected to the kind of public vilification that occurred when he had the audacity to record what turned out to be a false negative test for COVID-19 in June.

That McKenna’s test led to the postponement of Essendon’s game against Melbourne saw him portrayed as an almost comic book villain in some sections of the media, particularly after it was revealed he had visited his former host family while in quarantine.

McKenna’s advocates believed there was a strong case this visit was valid on compassionate grounds, given his isolation and homesickness.

But he accepted a one-week ban that allowed the AFL to demonstrate it was taking a tough stance on quarantine infringements to the various states with whom it was negotiating about hubs.

Yet even allowing for what was, at worst, a minor infraction and the ongoing concerns for his health, McKenna was subjected to scathing criticism, constant intrusion and false reporting before, and even after, his negative test was revealed.

‘Why would they change?’

Some more obsessive elements of the AFL media, in the now popular guise of the amateur epidemiologist, literally studied the saliva as it came from his nose at a training session.

This experience clearly left the already homesick McKenna rattled and disillusioned; although his beef was not with the right of the media to report on his case but the lack of integrity by a section of it.

Conor McKenna holds a red AFL ball in both hands
McKenna wants the AFL media to come under greater scrutiny.(AAP: Michael Dodge)

“No matter what job you have in life there are always repercussions, but the way the media works in Melbourne there doesn’t seem to be,” McKenna told ABC reporter and Offsiders panellist Catherine Murphy this week.

“There’s just a free-for-all to say whatever you want. If there are no repercussions, they’ll just continue to do that and treat players like a piece of meat.

“If there are no repercussions, why would they change? I think it’s something that the AFL should look at.”

The idea that the AFL might fine journalists for intrusive, unflattering or even misleading reporting is obviously far-fetched.

As much as some reporters like to consider themselves part of the “football industry”, they work for their media companies, not the game.

Then there is the AFL’s complicity. By seeking to dominate every conceivable date on the sports calendar it has encouraged and even driven the frenzied reporting of the competition without apparent consideration of the less fortunate implications for players.


McKenna’s playing brethren were also complicit, with North Melbourne’s Luke McDonald mocking the Irishman’s plight by raising his hands over his face as if wearing a mask, a gesture for which he later apologised.

But McKenna’s parting words still make it worth considering how the proliferation of AFL reporting has contributed to the sometimes-punitive coverage of the stars of the show, and the consequences for their wellbeing.

“The reality of it is I had a deadly disease … but people were more worried about the AFL being put off than my actual life,” McKenna told Murphy.

Significant boundaries now exist between athletes and media created by clubs fiercely guarding their “messages”, some outlets adopting a “get it first even if you don’t get it right” approach and the sheer size of the media itself.

The result has been a steady decline in the amount of meaningful personal contact and a subsequent lack of mutual understanding and empathy. The athlete is that “piece of meat” and the media the predator.

This is not to say there is no place for reasoned and even harsh criticism of those athletes who might compromise an entire season by seriously and wilfully breaching COVID-19 protocols — rather than merely by apparently suffering from COVID-19.

But you can’t help feeling McKenna is making a wise decision to return to Ireland, at least for a time, where his performance for County Tyrone will be fiercely debated but not his very motives.

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