The small Victorian town of Colac was almost over its COVID-19 outbreak, when a second wave of the virus hit.
An essential medical trip to Melbourne by one of its residents led to a new strain of coronavirus being introduced into the town, which quickly grew to a second wave.
In the first outbreak, linked to the town’s largest employer, the Australian Lamb Company abattoir, the number of active coronavirus cases peaked at 92 on August 8.
Hard work from the town’s residents brought that back to a low of eight just two and a half weeks later.
The figure has since climbed back to 25. At least 16 are connected to one of the town’s other large employers, the Bulla Dairy Foods factory.
Colac Otway Shire Council mayor Jason Schram said the outbreak was initially imported from a city hospital.
“It probably was just a case of bad luck for the second wave,” Cr Schram said.
“It did stem from an essential trip to Melbourne, and that person has, from all reports, picked it up at a hospital in Melbourne and it’s come from there.”
Real estate market drying up as consumer confidence takes hit
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been using the Colac situation as a cautionary tale for other communities, as he looks to justify his long roadmap out of coronavirus restrictions.
“The Colac example shows you: One person, two people, next thing it’s 25 people,” he said.
The town’s economy has suffered as a result of the restrictions, including a self-imposed lockdown during its first outbreak before regional Victorians were officially ordered to stay home.
Real estate agent Casey McDonald had decided 2020 was the year the start her own agency.
“I couldn’t have picked a worse year to open a business,” she said.
Colac had traditionally enjoyed strong interest from Melbourne residents looking for an investment or holiday property, but that has dried up, she said.
“We’ve seen consumer confidence drop off,” she said.
“We usually have a very bright market with lots of properties listed on the market. Right now we don’t have a lot of listings coming in.”
The town, like the rest of Victoria, is looking at the Premier’s roadmap out of COVID-19 restrictions.
Fears end of JobKeeper will be ‘biggest killer’ for business
Colac Chamber of Commerce vice-president Alex McKenzie said some retailers in town, such as hardware shops, had experienced a boom as people looked to spend their time at home constructively.
But pubs, cafes, restaurants and some retailers who couldn’t compete with major online shopping outlets were on the brink, he said.
“Some of them are just hanging in there, some of them are going all right,” he said.
“The biggest killer will be when JobKeeper starts dropping off – that’s when they’ll start to drop out.”
Mr McKenzie said the business community had been hopeful its first wave was under control and something resembling normal trading could resume, before it was hit by the second outbreak.
Cr Scrham said he supported the regional road map out of restrictions, despite it being a hard road ahead.
“It is just a bit of bad luck – it could happen to any regional town,” he said.
“It’s a good reminder to everyone to not get complacent and keep doing the hard yards.”