As Melbourne opens up a Corona Virus cleansing team have begun a blitz, but who are they?

My news beat covering the Corona Virus over the past few months has meant I’ve spent numerous days walking through the eerily quiet streets of Melbourne. In the last month or so, teams of Hi-Visibility vest clad cleaning teams would be dispatched throughout the city and into the suburbs. It was obvious to me that many of them didn’t seem like the sort of people you would generally associate with such work, it was evident that this was a new form of employment and in all likelihood the only form available for most. Curious to this, I felt compelled to learn more about who these people were, there was more to this story than just an increase in the number of cleaners on the street.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MAY 28: Former tour guide Paul Guley holds a morning briefing with COVID-19 Cleansing Team on May 28, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

Under an initiative funded by the Victorian Government titled ‘working for Victoria’ councils were giving funds to employ via their contractors displaced workers to conduct a sanitisation blitz.

On assignment for Getty Images, I spent a few days with the Covid-19 cleansing teams in the City of Port Phillip in Melbourne inner city south-east, to learn about the makeup of these unsung heroes of the Pandemic in Melbourne. Who are they, where do they come from, how are they in these roles and why have they chosen to do it?

Some have come from all over the world, among them are recent Law graduates, Architects, International Students and displaced local workers from the tourism and hospitality sectors. Most of have fallen through the cracks of being eligible for financial assistance during Covid-19, there are also some who have chosen not to get financial assistance and just want to get back to work.

For 5 days a week, they navigate their way through the street of Melbourne walking over 15 kilometres a day cleaning and sanitising railings, playgrounds, bins, lamp posts bicycle racks and every other council amenity we may not even notice. All done enthusiastically and with a sense of duty to the community.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MAY 28: Helmut Prieto from Colombia sanitizes a public shower on the shore of Port Melbourne beach on May 28, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia.
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MAY 29: Julien Battut sprays sanitizer on a railing in Port Melbourne on May 29, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. Originally from France Julien formally a member of the French Army who came to Australia to work as a chef found himself unemployed and unable to access Jobseeker due to his immigration status, he took on the role to not only maintain an income but to help the community, he says “I love Australia and Melbourne, if I can help at this time I am to do so” . (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MAY 28: Julien Battut (centre) and Adhar Bol (right) discuss the planned cleaning route their teams will be taking throughout the day on May 28, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MAY 29: Suzanne Kerr poses for a portrait on May 29, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. Suzanne Kerr aged 45 was unable to claim Jobseeker as she fell one month short of eligibility. She a resident in the country town of Mansfield, she commutes back home by bus on the weekend while she works five days a week as part of the Sanitization team while staying overnight at a hostel. She says “I don’t see it as a big deal, I have to do what I need to do to get by, there is no work in the country”. She feels that those unable to find work need to look at all options and maybe get out of there comfort zone “It’s not fantastic but sometimes it’s a good thing to be outside your comfort zone but don’t give up there is hope”. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MAY 28: A cleansing team sanitize playground equipment in the suburb of Port Melbourneon May 28, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MAY 28: Former tour guide Paul Guley cleans play sanitizes play equipment at a childrens playground on May 28, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. Paul Guley was a former tour guide previously worked with a tour operator taking predominantly international tourist, as a result of International travel restrictions he was without work. He finds his new employment “enjoyable as it provides a community service and an opportunity to still stay fit”. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MAY 29: A COVID-19 Cleansing Team cleans bike racks as they walk past a COVID-19 Clinic in Port Melbourne on May 29, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

Words and Photos by Asanka Brendon Ratnayake taken while #onassignment for @gettyimages 

Asanka Brendon Ratnayake is a photojournalist and travel photographer based in Melbourne Australia covering Australia, Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Follow him on instagram 

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