Victoria’s peak business group says companies should get compensation or assistance for being thrown into disarray as a result of the state’s snap five-day coronavirus lockdown.
From midnight Friday businesses deemed non-essential were forced to close and Victorians urged to stay home as the state grappled with an outbreak of the UK strain of the virus.
The announcement came on the eve of a weekend in which many were preparing to celebrate Valentine’s Day and Lunar New Year, disrupting businesses in the hospitality, events and accommodation sectors.
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said the Government needed to act quickly to support affected businesses to help them cope with the shutdown.
“The amount of money that will be ripped up this weekend by hospitality, accommodation providers and event providers, is significant,” Mr Guerra said.
“There will be food that will be thrown out because it won’t be able to be used. There will be cancellations that will be made.”
Halls Gap Zoo owner Greg Culell estimates he will lose up to $45,000 over the five days that his business is closed.
“We have had numerous requests for refunds of money, which we always do, and we’ve gone from online sales averaging $2000 a day to nothing today,” he said.
“We had to sell a home and our farm two kilometres from the zoo to cover the debts incurred during the second-wave closure, which was also caused by hotel quarantine.
“Our business is very strong and I’m not crying poor. The point is the Government’s incompetence.”
Mr Culell said the Federal Government’s Jobkeeper program kept the zoo afloat during the second lockdown last year and he would need to continue paying 23 of his 24 employees full wages during the five-day closure.
Gippsland florist Sheree Kerr said she was speechless after the local community rallied to buy her Valentine’s Day stock.
When the lockdown was announced, Ms Kerr decided to keep her Warragul Flower Shop open until midnight to avoid having to throw her stock out and, thanks to social media, she had no shortage of customers looking to support her.
“People just came out in the droves,” she said.
But Ms Kerr said people “who have lost their money or had to put stock in the bin” could need some support from government.
“‘It’s heartbreaking for people who’ve lost money just putting good stock in the bin … It really is heartbreaking,” she said.
The Victorian Government’s decision to lock down the state, despite no coronavirus cases in regional Victoria, was met with disappointment from some regional businesses.
Others accepted the need to prevent the dangerous UK variant of COVID-19 escaping into the regions from Melbourne, where 20 people are now infected.
During Victoria’s second lockdown, different restrictions were in place in regional and metropolitan areas and police checkpoints were set up as part of the “ring of steel” around the city to prevent travel between the two zones.
Mr Guerra said regional businesses were finding the snap lockdown “hard to swallow” when all cases were in Melbourne.
“What we’re being told is that this is the UK variant that does move pretty quickly. So I guess ultimately, health [officials] decided that was the way to go. That does not make it any easier for regional businesses,” he said.
“This is a clear breach of hotel quarantine and businesses continue to pay the price for the Government’s inability to run quarantine effectively.”
Premier Daniel Andrews said he recognised that the decision to force the state into lockdown was tough for traders and there would be further announcements about additional support for businesses .
“We’ve always had a willingness to to provide that support where it’s needed,” he said.
“But it does take a little bit of time to assess the challenge … and once we’re ready to make those announcements, we will.”
There have been few cases in regional Victoria since the end of the state’s second lockdown in 2020, but a number of exposure sites were listed in Gippsland after a virus carrier visited over the New Years holiday.
Mr Andrews said regional areas were included in the latest lockdown because there was not enough time to set up police checkpoints.
“If you have soft rules in the country and you have a much harder lockdown in a city … people from Melbourne will go to the regions and they could potentially take the virus with them,” he said.
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