On Wednesday the Premier Daniel Andrews announced the news that everyone was hoping for, namely that the five-day lockdown was being lifted at 11.59pm that night.
“Because of the efforts of every Victorian – the sacrifices and the hard slog – we can be confident that slowly, and surely, we are driving the virus into the ground,” he said.
“It hasn’t been easy or straightforward. In fact, for those Victorians who are part of our health response, it’s been bloody hard work.
“We will largely return to the previous rules – while keeping a watchful eye on some of the riskier settings. There’ll no longer be four reasons to leave home. The five-kilometre restriction will no longer apply. Restaurants and retail can reopen. The same applies to community facilities, entertainment venues and all other public places – although some additional limits on crowd sizes will be in place. Students will be able to head back to school. Workers will be able to get back to work, both public and private offices that means a return to 50 per cent on site.”
When news came last Friday afternoon that the whole of Victoria would be forced into another lockdown and Stage 4 restrictions would again be in place, a feeling of dread pervaded small business owners who were about to have their world up-ended again.
The much anticipated Valentine’s Day trade, which would normally be a shot in the arm for florists, cafe, restaurant and pubs, faced the reality that the annual opportunity to make some much needed revenue would be lost, with the Premier’s announcement that at 11.59 Friday night, we would all be back in lockdown, for what we were told, would be a short, sharp five-day lockdown.
Mildura Food Group Director, Ryan Casey, who operates Stefano’s Cafe and The Spanish Grill said the snap lockdown had cost him $45,000 in lost revenue, plus stock wastage.
“We had hundreds of people booked in over the weekend. That was all cancelled,” Mr Casey said.
“The infuriating thing you will find with most people in hospitality is the fact that it was Friday after lunch, when all of our deliveries had been done for a weekend that we had all been preparing for, and that’s what has hurt most of us − it was really hard to swallow.
“Our deliveries arrived Friday morning ahead of a very busy weekend. We had 100 in the Spanish Grill Friday night, then 100 people Saturday night and 120 booked in for Sunday and the cafe had more than 130 people booked in on Saturday, and so it was going to a massive weekend and it’s just all gone.”
Mr Casey said the other problem was the fact that his staff aren’t on Jobkeeper any longer.
“A factor that will have affected a lot of other businesses as well, is that my staff are no longer on Jobkeeper and haven’t been for a while now, and so they don’t have an income,” he said.
“I can’t open and hope that takeaway will work, and I can’t have them standing around because I don’t have the revenue and support from the government.
“The stock wastage was hurtful, but even more so, is the fact that I have 35 staff who don’t have an income for however long they decide to keep the lockdown in place.
“I really felt for them this time because we couldn’t support them. We had a really good quarter and then there’s nothing after it – you just sort of fall off a cliff and that is the hard bit for me this time.
“We are more than 500 kilometres away from Melbourne and we are being penalised. I can stand by the river and watch people go past in their boats because they live in New South Wales. It’s insane!
“I think the first lockdown we all accepted it because it need to happen − the second lockdown we were angry, but we understood it as well, but this one is just hard to accept in regional areas and we are again lumped in with metro.
“It’s obvious that the hotel quarantine doesn’t work and the government needs to sort that problem out − you just can’t have the country open and close at the whim of the Premier.”
Mr Casey said that there hasn’t been any mention of compensation for the hospitality industry, something that will no doubt be pursued.
Jannine Fox owner of Neane’s Florist whose store was able to remain open, said that Valentine’s Day was a big event on the florist’s calendar, which always saw a boost in the sales of flowers for her business and due to the lockdown she had suffered about a 50 per cent downturn in revenue.
Despite that, Jannine wasn’t completely disappointed, saying that it had been enjoyable not to have been run-off their feet given it was far less than hectic than usual.
“Being a Sunday it is normally a quieter day anyway for trading and it was a more pleasurable day because it wasn’t as intense and tiring,” she said.
“We were still lucky to trade and we had sales and we also carried out phone orders and deliveries. But it definitely was down, but it could have been worse and I am more than grateful for how my day went.
“When you do less turnover you have less overheads and I was conservative in what I had ordered and so I didn’t really have any wastage.
“On thing that was missing was the orders that we would normally receive to be delivered to businesses on Monday morning with them being closed.”
Member for Mildura Ali Cupper said the Victorian Government’s announcement of blanket restrictions was difficult for people to understand.
“I have advocated throughout the pandemic for a nuanced and proportionate approach to lockdowns, restrictions and border closures and I don’t deviate from that position now,” Ms Cupper said.
“The Stage 4 restrictions came as a shock and I know and feel the frustration in our community given we are so far removed from Melbourne where the current outbreak is.
“The level of severity of these restrictions is something we have not experienced before and it will turn people’s lives upside down.
“It’s incredibly disruptive and inconvenient.”
Ms Cupper said one factor in the current outbreak of potential concern was Terminal 4 at Melbourne Airport being declared a tier one exposure site.
“Terminal 4 is where some flights to Mildura land and take off from, so that does become a factor people need to be aware of,” she said.
“I am getting more specific advice about testing requirements for people who have been to that terminal and Melbourne Airport more broadly.”
Member for Mallee Anne Webster said that the lockdown imposed on the entire state of Victoria was devastating, disproportionate and shows a lack of confidence by the Victorian Premier in his own tracing regime.
Dr Webster labelled the state-wide lockdown an urban centric reaction, made without the consideration of regional communities.
“What is clear, is that residents across Mallee are sick of being treated the same as suburban Melbourne,” she said.
“It is time that Premier Andrews implemented a proportionate approach.
“In the time since the lockdown was announced, and the South Australian government closed their border, I have been contacted by families, small business owners, and organisers of major events who have been devastated by the latest lockdown.
“We cannot continue with this approach to the virus. Regional Victorians need targeted, measured and proportionate response to managing hotspots, with efficient testing and tracing regimes, just as NSW managed in the North Sydney over Christmas.”