Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Locked down again in Stage 3 restrictions

A trade-off between health and economy? Small business owners in Melbourne prepare for further downturn

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Locked down again in Stage 3 restrictions

At the stroke of midnight, when the rest of Australia slept, Metropolitan Melbourne reverted into stage 3 restrictions, albeit kicking and screaming.

The six-week clamp down came with little warning and was received with a sense of foreboding by the community, particularly small businesses. 

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“Revenues have been significantly impacted with these stop-start lockdowns,” said Priti Roberts, owner operator of the Art Factory, an arts school for kids. According to her the effect on her small business has been overall negative and even during the weeks when restrictions were eased the 4 square meters rule as well as physical distancing requirements them in a position where it wasn’t viable to operate.

Some transparency from the Government would go a long way to help maintain morale and give hope, Priti said. “We need to understand what these lockdowns are trying to achieve,” she stressed. “Is the intent to eradicate the virus, or not overwhelm the medical system? At the moment it feels as though small businesses are not a priority for the Government, given they have asked us to close our doors yet again for 6 weeks with no explanation as to why, except that someone decided 191 COVID cases with 9 people in ICU and 2 new deaths was unacceptable.”

Addy Singh, who owns a childcare business, also feels that the economy will take a nosedive after this second wave of restrictions. He employs more than 120 staff in his childcare centres and according to him the future looks grim. “With JobSeekers and Jobkeepers packages ending soon there will be serious repercussions, unemployment could spike, and it will be difficult to maintain all staff under these conditions,” he said. Besides that, children and parents are also faced with anxiety and uncertainties with escalating health fears and financial constraints.

“My question is, what is the guarantee that after the 6 weeks lockdown the situation with COVID will improve, and the community clusters will not return after that time?” he asked as he shared his apprehensions about the new restrictions in Victoria. “On the other hand, it is absolutely certain that businesses will be impacted significantly, and some may not even survive. So why lock the economy down for a virus?”

Restaurateur Rajen Bhatia is equally concerned, “After a long gap, things were just inching towards normalcy but this lockdown may create another setback, and this time I am worried it will take its toll,” said Rajen.

“During the last lockdown my business survived mainly because of our team’s resilience and with the support from our regular clients who ordered takeaways often. We had just started settling back into dine-in and now we have to revert to takeaways again. Under these changing circumstances it’s difficult to retain staff and offer them consistent work. More than anything, I feel for those members of my staff who are international students, already struggling without much support,” shared Rajen. 

(Rajen had served free food to struggling students during the previous restrictions with the support of other sponsors.)

Many others small business owners like Priti, Addy and Rajen in Metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell shire are reeling under the unexpected turn of events and trying to understand whether the lockdown is a trade-off between health and economy. Either way pain is inevitable.

READ ALSO: Working from home with little kids

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Preeti Jabbal
Preeti Jabbal
Preeti is the Melbourne Coordinator of Indian Link.

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