In less than a fortnight, Victoria is due to begin gradually emerging from six weeks of a crippling statewide lockdown.
What that looks like will be revealed on Sunday, when Premier Daniel Andrews is expected to announce the state’s “reopening roadmap”.
Top industry leaders and business leaders met government officials on Monday night as part of a week-long discussion about a pathway out of Stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne and Stage 3 in regional Victoria.
All of them are desperate to get businesses running again, but many are also concerned about potential plans to reopen.
Paul Guerra, CEO of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce, said the organisation has been talking to the state government throughout lockdown. Key areas of discussion include:
- How low do daily coronavirus cases have to fall for businesses to reopen?
- If a coronavirus outbreak occurs at a cafe or gym, how can we shut down that facility or area rather than shutting down the whole state?
- How can businesses have “absolute confidence” in the state’s contact tracing team so we can quickly stamp out outbreaks to avoid a third wave?
“Until there’s a vaccine, it’s hard to see any businesses operating the way they were six or seven months ago,” Mr Guerra told The New Daily.
“But there is a way we can learn to live with COVID.”
He said there was “no question” we’ll be able to have workers return to the office by Christmas, though it’s unlikely we’ll have 100 per cent of staff in the building at any one time.
“I can’t see any reason we can’t get to a point where cafes and restaurants can reopen, provided customers are doing the right thing and the hospitality sector is doing the right thing,” he said.
“If we can apply the same discipline we’ve had during lockdown into reopening, then I’m confident we can get business back up and running again in the very near future.”
But Tim Piper, the Victorian head of the employer association Ai Group, said the Victorian government needed to go further than outlining a reopening roadmap.
It must offer extra support to help businesses recover and build confidence.
Mr Piper said we needed strategies to bring back jobs to the state, boost cash flow, reduce “unnecessary regulatory burdens” and “plans to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation”.
Successful businesses don’t turn on a dime or get switched on or off like a tap,’’ he said.
“It needs predictability and optimism to build confidence.
“Victorian business and those across the country who rely on Victoria need confidence, predictability and optimism.”
Trust us, Premier
Justin O’Donnell is the president of the Chapel Street Precinct Association, which represents more than 2200 Melbourne businesses, ranging from cafes and restaurants to graphic design agencies and gyms.
But “not once” has the Victorian government spoken to the association about reopening, he said.
“We represent the largest business group of traders in Melbourne and not once has the Victorian government reached out to discuss anything with us,” Mr O’Donnell told The New Daily.
He said he hoped the Premier would outline a clear pathway out of Stage 4 on Sunday so businesses in the once-bustling shopping precinct could start preparing to reopen.
“They need to trust our businesses to do the right thing and treat this pandemic with care,” he said, adding many businesses quickly adapted to social distancing rules, strict hygiene measures, contract tracing and face masks earlier this year.
“How many restaurants, cafes, hairdressers and the like have had outbreaks?
“The outbreaks were happening in people’s homes. At least businesses can contact trace.”