Most Melbourne stores won’t open till late October

In a devastating blow to retailers, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ roadmap out of restrictions shows a seven week delay to stores reopening in Melbourne.

The four step plan starts on 13 September, with the second step depending on the amount of new cases over a 14-day period as well as public health advice.

For retailers, things won’t change until step 3 is implemented after 26 October, however, this again depends on the number of (new) cases recorded between step 2 and 3.

“If we go too far too soon, the modelling also tells us we’d be on track for a third wave by mid-November,” Andrews said on Sunday when he introduced the roadmap.

Australian Retailers Association (ARA) CEO, Paul Zahra, says retailers expected and accept the need for a staged and safe return to regular activities within Victoria, but the ARA is very disappointed by the target date of 26 October for a return to any regular retail activity, given retail’s exemplary and safe performance.

“Melbourne retailers will have been subject to lockdown for 13 weeks at that point and some hair and beauty salons have been closed for five months, which is unprecedented,” he says.

“Without further financial support, this will certainly permanently wipe out a large number of small businesses and see the closure of many Victorian stores by national retailers.

“An evidence based approach should account for the fact that when retailers comply with Covid safe plans, shopping is one of the safest activities in a Covid world. In Australia, we have very little evidence of transmissions occurring during retail based activity and our retailers have worked extremely hard and spared no expense to create that outcome.

“Whilst we appreciate the increased transparency around target numbers for infections, with the rhetoric shifting to ‘living with Covid’ globally, we believe it is unrealistic to target single digit daily case rates before reopening. NSW has remained open and on track with double digit performance of around 10 to 18 daily cases during much of August,” says Zahra.

He adds that the impact of this health crisis is no longer contained to just a virus. The lockdown fatigue is having a devastating impact on other health issues including mental health and of course protracting the economic crisis.

“Many retailers make the majority of their profits in this shopping period between now and January and every week lost is a devastating blow.”

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, has called on the Victorian Government to cover the costs associated with small business closures.

“Under the Victorian Government’s roadmap, many small businesses will not be able to open for another eight weeks at least and that’s only on the condition that there is less than five cases per day as a state-wide average,” she says.

“On that basis, small businesses that were thinking this lockdown would only last for another couple of weeks, now don’t know if they will ever be able to reopen.

“For those struggling small businesses that know they cannot remain viable under these imposed conditions, the Victorian Government needs to step up and help them make the sensible business decision to exit.

“This means the Victorian Government needs to pay for all break-lease termination fees, not just on the premises but also equipment so small business owners can walk away without further penalties.

“Small business loans are often secured against the family home, so these hard-working small business owners are now faced with gut-wrenching decisions about their future. They need to be supported in every aspect," she adds.