Small business groups say Sydney’s ongoing lockdown will cause loss of staff and spike in mental health issues

COVID-19

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian with Deputy Premier John Barilaro. Source: AAP/Joel Carrett.

Small business groups are concerned Sydney’s lockdown will cause more businesses to lose staff and exacerbate mental health issues among owners, after NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced further restrictions across Greater Sydney from 5pm on Friday.

Alexi Boyd, interim chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organisations (COSBOA), says while restrictions must be guided by medical advice, there’s “nothing more devastating” to small businesses than the uncertainty of a lockdown.

“Not only does it cause a massive loss of income, to zero in most cases, but knock on effects for the broader economy as well and the mental health plight of business owners,” Boyd tells SmartCompany.

One of the biggest problems among COSBOA’s members is the confusion around lockdown support and reopening.

“There has still not been, after 16 months, a national standardised approach to each of these things,” she says.

On Friday, NSW Health recorded 44 cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday, following 38 cases the day before. This prompted the state government to announce further restrictions across the Central Coast, Blue Mountains, Wollongong and Shellharbour.

From 5pm Friday, July 9, browsing in shops will be prohibited, only one person per household can leave the home for shopping, outdoor public gatherings will be limited to two people, and residents won’t be allowed to travel further than 10km from their home for exercise.

Speaking at a press conference this morning, Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed that for restrictions to ease, there must be close to zero cases of people infectious with COVID-19 in the community.

“We need to get as close to that zero number as possible before we open up,” she said.

“Obviously, we’re going to see higher case numbers moving forward.” 

Should the Sydney lockdown be extended beyond three weeks, it will be the longest lockdown in any state or territory since the JobKeeper wage subsidy ended in March.

Earlier this week, NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and industry associations requested further business support from the federal government, including the reinstatement of JobKeeper. But Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he wouldn’t revive the $90 billion JobKeeper program.

Instead, the Morrison government announced a variation to the eligibility criteria for the COVID-19 Disaster Payment.

Locked down NSW residents who have lost work will now be able to access weekly disaster payments of $350 to $500, regardless of whether they have $10,000 in liquid assets.

Boyd says the problem with this style of support is that it displaces staff from businesses, increasing the risk of workers going elsewhere if they temporarily lose hours.

“Unlike JobKeeper, that support doesn’t keep staff connected to a business,” Boyd says. 

“And, with a huge shortage of skilled and unskilled workers at the moment, the last thing a small business needs is to lose their dedicated staff because they get poached elsewhere.” 

The NSW government announced grants of up to $10,000 for businesses affected by the restrictions but that amount is unlikely to cover the full cost of rent, wages, energy and spoilage of supplies or stock.

“I think we understand that there isn’t an unending tap of financial support and that the best way to stop lockdowns from occurring is to get the nation vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Boyd says.

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