Victoria braces for more lockdowns before Christmas

Tourism groups in Victoria are calling for more financial support from the government and flexible employment arrangements as the state braces for more lockdowns before Christmas.

The Victorian state government has confirmed it will extend its current lockdown – its sixth iteration – until September 2. A curfew has also been imposed from 09.00 to 17.00 for the two-week duration. At press time, there are currently 205 active Covid-19 cases in Victoria, compared to more than 7,000 in New South Wales.

Victoria’s sixth lockdown extended for two weeks amid rising case numbers; a deserted State Library of Victoria during an earlier lockdown pictured 

Businesses have also been warned to expect snap lockdowns to be the new normal until Christmas, when a target of 70 to 80 per cent vaccination rates are expected to lead to a change in government policies about imposing sudden lockdowns.

The government initially responded to the latest lockdowns with a A$400 million (US$294 million) package for almost 100,000 impacted businesses, co-funded by state and federal coffers. A further A$367 million was offered when the seven-day lockdown was extended. But tourism representatives say the measures are not enough.

“While these business support programmes are welcomed by the industry, the reality is they don’t really come anywhere near compensating the businesses for the losses that they incur from all these lockdowns,” said Felicia Mariani, chief executive of the Victoria Tourism Industry Council.

“The businesses that support the state’s visitor economy have reached the end of their ability to bounce back from these rolling lockdowns and residual restrictions. There is simply little or nothing left in the tank for tourism businesses to continue under the weight of these recurring setbacks.

“We’re calling for a much more comprehensive, targeted and sustained programme for tourism, hospitality and events. We also need to see both state and federal governments reintroduce a wage subsidy scheme, similar to the NSW JobSaver program, targeting those industries most affected by the pandemic restrictions. As well, we need to see flexibility in Fair Work provisions reintroduced to ensure that businesses can tread water until we accomplish the rates of vaccination,” she lamented.

Apart from more funding, Adventure Tourism Victoria (ATV) is also calling for more hospitality businesses to be considered eligible for compensation.

“There are certain parts of the tourism industry that have been forgotten,” said ATV’s president Alex Hill. “If you don’t have a liquor license with a food license in Melbourne, then a lot of these grants aren’t available to you. For example, if you just have an accommodation venue, or one with a small lobby bar or if you’re a nightclub then a lot of these grants just don’t apply to you.

“(Plus) you’ve still got a lot of operators that are chasing lockdown grants from three lockdowns ago. All these business owners and operators are digging into their own capital or their own savings or building more debt trying to keep their staff employed,” he continued.

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