Victorians are reeling from the news that the coronavirus lockdown will remain in place for two extra weeks – followed by a long and painful roadmap out.
Fronting the media on Sunday afternoon, Premier Daniel Andrews delivered the crushing news that the current strict COVID-19 lockdown, which was due to end in mid-September, would now be extended for an extra fortnight in metro Melbourne.
After that, the state will progress through a series of stages with different restrictions eased along the way, until “COVID normal” is potentially achieved towards the end of the year.
But while it has been a devastating blow to everyday citizens struggling under the harsh measures, experts warn it would be even tougher for businesses.
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Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra said the lengthy delay to reopen retail on October 26 would be a “death sentence” for many Melbourne retailers.
“Melbourne retailers will have been subject to lockdown for 13 weeks at that point – and some hair and beauty salons have been closed for five months, which is unprecedented,” Mr Zahra said in a statement.
“Without further financial support, this will certainly permanently wipe out a large number of small businesses and see the closure of many Victorian stores by national retailers.
“An evidence-based approach should account for the fact that when retailers comply with Covid Safe plans, shopping is one of the safest activities in a Covid world. In Australia, we have very little evidence of transmissions occurring during retail based activity and our retailers have worked extremely hard and spared no expense to create that outcome.”
He said the ARA would like to see a national approach adopted and “more regular shopping experiences”, and said that as most retailers made most of their profits between now and January, every week lost was a “devastating blow”.
Paul Guerra, the CEO of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told the ABC earlier on Sunday that the announcement was “disappointing”.
“We’re really disappointed. What we wanted was a roadmap to recovery, what we’ve got is a roadmap to nowhere … businesses will go broke,” he said.
“This does not deliver for the thousands of businesses that are trying to keep this state going and trying to keep their doors open,” he said.
“We can’t continue to let business and jobs be decimated on the way to controlling the spread of the virus.”
Mr Guerra told news.com.au there was widespread “devastation” among business owners following the announcement today.
“We agree there is a need to get this virus under control, and we are in lock-step with both the federal and state government – but we just can’t let businesses and jobs be sacrificed along the way,” he said.
“We need to protect the community, but also the community’s future as well.”
Mr Guerra said it was “without a question” that some businesses would not survive.
“Some businesses won’t be reopening again for another two months, and sadly some just won’t make it through,” he said.
“And not only will they lose their businesses, they will also have to look their employees in the eye and tell them they no longer have a job.”
Mr Guerra said his organisation had contacted the State Treasurer to push for an urgent financial package to help businesses through this critical next phase.
‘WRECKING BALL TO BUSINESS’
During this afternoon’s press conference, Mr Andrews hit back at criticism from the Opposition that his coronavirus stance had taken a “wrecking ball to business” in Victoria.
“We have got a job to do here and we have to see this thing off properly otherwise this virus will be back and it will be back worse than it has ever been,” he said.
“If people want to find fault with the fact that I refused to pretend this is over just because they desperately wanted to be, and we all do, then that is a matter for them.
“I don’t have the luxury of doing what’s popular when I know, with certainty, that that’s not a strategy that will work and we will be standing here again in just a few weeks’ time, reimposing the restrictions that we took off too quickly. We can’t run out of these rules. We can’t sprint out of it.”
He stressed the state needed to ease restrictions in “safe, steady steps” so it could remain open in future.
“I don’t expect everyone to like that. I don’t expect everyone … to be anything other than disappointed (but) this is wildly infectious and that this is the only way to deal with it,” he said.
“I’m disappointed too. But you have to confront the reality you face. To do anything else is simply wrong and I will not do that.
“They will not, for the sake of being popular, make a decision that I know to be the wrong one because the data and the size and the experts tell me so.”
It was a sentiment shared by NAB CEO Ross McEwan, who said there was “no playbook for responding to this crisis”.
“The impact of this pandemic has been devastating and the measures put in place to curb its spread are difficult – but with the plan released today we can see a path out if we all do the right thing,” he said.
“We need to get Victoria and in particular Melbourne open for business as quickly as possible but we need to do it safely and cautiously.
“Governments need to be flexible and act on the latest health advice and their continued support of businesses and households is vital.”