It’s 8am at Keilor Central and the shopping centre is nearly empty.
The plaza, which is in the middle of Keilor, one of the suburbs hit hardest by Melbourne’s second Covid-19 wave, is the only shopping centre in the suburb so customers are filing in but many walk quickly, with faces down and gloves on.
The shoppers who arrive this early are those worried about crowds.
A healthcare worker from the plaza, who did not wish to be named, says the week since the premier defined the suburb as a hotspot has been tough. As a Muslim woman, she feels targeted.
“No one has come up to my face and said ‘you are causing coronavirus’, but it’s little things. It’s the things you see online and little comments that are made.”
Unconfirmed reports of Muslim families originating a Covid-19 cluster have been splashed across Australian media in the last week.
“It’s not the nicest thing to hear because when this all started and it was on the other side of the city, no one mentioned race then,” she says.
There has been a focus from the state government on ensuring multicultural communities are informed about the virus. But the healthcare worker says she’s worried her community could be singled out in the safety blitz.
“They are saying ‘oh we are sending people out because there is a language barrier’, it’s not a language barrier, you know what I mean, it’s like an excuse that’s being thrown out.”
The local government area of Brimbank, where the shopping centre is located, had 32 active cases as of Monday, second only to Hume’s 54, only 10 minutes down the road.
Keilor Downs has some of the most rampant community transmission of Covid-19 and along with nine other suburbs are the targets of a huge testing blitz, with government officials going door to door asking people to get tested whether they have symptoms or not.
Not wanting to be named is common in Keilor Downs this week, with one person quipping that they wouldn’t want to be associated with “this sort of thing”.
“It’s been really difficult for some because you almost feel as if you are being targeted,” says another woman.
“There is a lot of fear … especially when they are talking about locking down suburbs, it felt almost like our suburb has done something terribly, terribly wrong. It’s difficult to understand that ‘yes we have overstepped a boundary’ because most people feel like they have been doing the right thing.”
On the other side of Keilor Central two older women scurry out of the supermarket with trollies full and heavy-duty masks covering their faces.
“I usually have my kids to do the shopping for me,” says one of the women named Mary, wheeling her trolly so fast towards the shopping centre’s exist she borders on jogging.
“Of course it’s worrying, I’ve had cancer, my husband has had cancer.”
Masks are common among the older shoppers in the plaza. Some face covers look straight out of the hospital packet, bought fresh for the weekly shop, while some masks are worn and frayed, as if in use since March.
Some shoppers seem to be taking the threat less seriously, barefaced or haphazardly wrapping scarfs around their mouths before entering a store. One woman wore a rainbow crocheted face mask, with holes between the stitches the size of fingers.
For more than a week, the state government has been considering suburb lockdowns, but rather than fearing the prospect many locals say they want it to happen sooner rather than later.
“Honestly even if it meant that I can’t go to work here, I just want them to lock this suburb down,” says a worker at the centre.
“They just need to get it under control or this is going to be as bad as America. It’s going to go on for one or even two years.
“I’m safe behind here,” the worker says motioning to the barrier that stands between him and the customer.
“But, who knows, my co-workers could have it … I don’t want to get it and bring it home and infect other people.”
Liz, a young Keilor Downs resident, says she isn’t afraid of a “stay at home” order.
“The government, they are on top of it. I have confidence it’s under control,” she says.
“Like, I’m disappointed we as a community didn’t do better, but if it’s going to get bad I would prefer that we just go into lockdown.”
As the morning goes on the older crowd thins out and the late-risers start making their way in. There are more people but fewer masks, and the mood is almost relaxed. Now approaching the fifth month of the pandemic, some Victorians are getting tired of lockdowns.
Shopper Fabian Fernando says, even knowing the week’s case numbers, it was difficult to feel too scared.
“The fear is gone now, to be honest. We still do the procedures and wash hands, but the fear inside that we had is no more.
“Everyone is back to the normal routine. It’s hard when you have been stuck in the same place, it’s hard to lock down again.”
He says he finds himself slipping sometimes when it comes to hand sanitising and physical distancing.
“I’ll be honest with you, I’m not even thinking about it … I know it’s dumb but the routine has changed now.”
Yolanda Taban is 70 but she says she won’t let herself worry too much.
“I feel sad and angry about what is happening to our community. But I’m careful, I look after myself, I don’t go near anyone,” she says.
She’s wrapped a yellow scarf around her face and wears plastic gloves to push her trolley, but she isn’t in a rush.
“I’m too old to follow the news, but I’m not worried, people just need to not be stupid.
“I have me, I have my faith, and what will happen will happen.”