Victorian businesses are at the end of their tether, with the Vic. Premier unwilling to give a standard hotspotting indicator such as a <1 reproduction rate not even in consideration whilst businesses lose thousands of dollars a day.
There is a delicate tension at play between keeping the community safe and allowing businesses to operate. No one wants to see more COVID-19 deaths, and no one wants a third wave of the coronavirus.
But every additional day that businesses in Victoria are closed, we slip further behind the rest of the country. Sadly, more businesses and their staff face financial ruin. The challenge is made even more real following the reduction to the JobKeeper rate on September 28.
The increasing uncertainty of running a business in Victoria is troubling. We once led the nation as the economic engine room. We are ready to do it again, but first businesses must be allowed to restart, safely and with certainty. Further delay will not only hurt business owners and jobs, it will further damage the reputation of our great state.
There are steps that government, businesses and the community can take together to strike the right balance.
The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry wants to see as much of the previously announced third step to removing lockdown restrictions, tentatively due next weekend, come into effect as soon as possible. We don’t yet know what will be permitted to open and Premier Daniel Andrews has signalled more detail this week.
The chamber intends to continue to work closely with the government to ensure it has the insights and information needed to make the best decision, one that balances virus control and business opening. The earlier the decision can be communicated, the more notice each business has to prepare to welcome back staff and customers, and ensure stock is available and COVID-safe plans are in place.
The chamber has consistently said the trigger numbers to get to the government’s third step are unrealistically low. It’s unfair that Victorian businesses have to stay closed when, elsewhere in Australia, businesses are operating under similar COVID-19 case numbers. Those trigger points must be revised immediately. It’s particularly hard for businesses in border towns peering across the river to see their NSW competitors welcoming customers.
We need to learn to live with the virus, keeping people safe and allowing business and workers to get going. Experts say this is not only possible, but necessary ahead of a vaccine. We look to other states, particularly NSW, that have managed to achieve a balance on virus suppression, all with community and businesses operating together.
We must empower every Victorian business to open and operate, safely and responsibly. This is not the time for open slather. No business wants to see a third wave happen. We are all cognisant of the disastrous and crippling impact that would have, and businesses will do everything in their power to prevent that from happening.
In return every Victorian must trust the government to make the right decision to enable business and the community to function together, and safely. And every Victorian must join in our commitment to do the right thing. Get tested and isolate if you have symptoms, or indeed the virus. Practise good hygiene, wear a mask and maintain social distancing.
The best support we can give to businesses right now is to let them resume trading and restoring good salaries for their staff. Business don’t want handouts, they want their capacity to contribute to Victoria back.
Victorians have done the hard yards. Businesses have COVID-safe plans ready to be implemented. The community measures have been severe, yet we accepted them. Now is the time to learn to live with this virus, taking the right precautions to protect and respond, but allowing some kind of COVID normality. We cannot stay locked down forever.
Paul Guerra is chief executive of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.