PEAK bodies for businesses in cities and towns across regional Victoria, including Geelong and Apollo Bay, have signed onto a letter urging Premier Daniel Andrews to never impose a statewide lockdown ever again.
The 16 bodies – including the Geelong Chamber of Commerce, Committee for Geelong and the Apollo Bay Chamber of Commerce and Tourism – acknowledge the five-day statewide “circuit breaker”, which ran from February 12-17, was imposed to prevent a third wave of COVID-19 cases.
In a letter released this afternoon signed by the heads of the Committee for Ballarat, Commerce Ballarat and Ballarat Regional Tourism on behalf of the others, the peak bodies want Mr Andrews to “reflect deeply” on the circuit breaker and create a “comprehensive plan” for any future shutdowns.
They say the five-day lockdown resulted in four key learnings for the state government to consider, the first of which is “a more nuanced approach when shutting down areas and regions”.
“A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach may have been necessary given the presence of the uncertainty of the UK strain of the virus, but a total shutdown of the economy cannot be the only answer if we are to live with some levels of the virus in the community into the future,” the letter states.
“Businesses and livelihoods suffer unnecessarily when a statewide shutdown is imposed and the impact of this is disproportional when considering metropolitan, regional and rural areas.
“We note and recognise the state government’s Roadmaps to Recovery through 2020 included one for metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria. We believe a similar approach is warranted for 2021 and beyond as required.”
The letter urges greater clarity and consistency on the restrictions imposed at each stage, with the circuit breaker imposing different Stage Four restrictions apply than in 2020, which caused “confusion and added further stress to business and the community”.
The peak bodies also say relevant departments must be better equipped to handle the enquiries of business and the community, with formal channels for communication through various government agencies “not able to provide answers to the questions” from business both when the restrictions were announced and when they were eased; and greater clarity for border communities.
The letter acknowledges and welcomes the state government’s $143 million Circuit Breaker Action Business Support Package to support traders most affected by the shutdown.
“We seek a constructive relationship with the government in relation to the issues that are unique to regional Victoria,” it states.
“Regional Victoria is a key contributor to the state’s economy and its social fabric. We believe our voice can assist government as it leads the state’s fight against the virus.”
Today’s letter follows one in October 2020 from the Victorian Regional Chambers Alliance – which includes many of the same chambers and business associations from across the state – that urged the state government to loosen regional Victoria’s coronavirus restrictions faster than in metropolitan Melbourne.