Small business owners are largely frustrated that the federal government is not doing more to ensure a faster vaccine rollout in order to open international borders before mid-next year.
John Gomez, owner of Colombian restaurant La Tienda located in South Yarra, Melbourne, says the government “desperately” needs to make a plan to reopen the borders sooner.
“We desperately need to open the borders faster. There are not enough people here to fill vacant positions, whether that’s in hospitality or other industries,” Gomez says.
“The industry is screaming for the borders to open up. I’m at times doing double shifts because we don’t have enough staff,” he says.
‘The narrative needs to change’
Gomez’s comments follow those of Jayne Hrdlicka, chief executive of Virgin Australia, who told the QUT Business Leaders Forum in Brisbane on Monday that international borders should open as soon as vulnerable groups are vaccinated.
But Hrdlicka said opening borders will be a difficult task politically because “the narrative needs to change”.
“It needs to change so that COVID will become part of the community,” Hrdlicka told the forum.
“It will make us sick but won’t put us into hospital. Some people may die but it will be way smaller than the flu,” she said.
Virgin Australia is hopeful that flights to Fiji and Bali can resume in September, adding to flights already going to New Zealand.
Penny Spencer, managing director of Spencer Travel, supports Virgin Australia’s view that opening borders should be a greater priority.
“There shouldn’t be anyone dying but we absolutely need a roadmap,” Spencer tells SmartCompany.
“Businesses are not going to survive on throw away comments such as mid-2022.”
International border closures are significantly affecting Spencer’s travel businesses, and she says catering to domestic travel is not enough to be profitable in the longer term.
“It is destroying my business, we can sell domestic but it is not enough to survive,” she says.
NSW Premier sets target
The debate over border closures was renewed when the federal budget revealed the government does not expect international travel to resume until mid-2022 the earliest.
Taryn Williams, chief executive and founder of Wink Models and The Right Fit, says an accelerated vaccine rollout would be “ideal” because it could allow the government to open the borders sooner.
“And that would have a positive impact on the economy overall,” she says.
Williams runs two talent agencies that would normally book models, actors and photographers for overseas contracts. However, since the borders have shut those contracts have come “to a grinding halt”, she says.
“International clients have also had to change the way they would normally shoot a local campaign as they can’t easily fly in or out,” she says.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian today revealed the new vaccine target needed before the state government would consider allowing international travel.
Berejiklian said at least 5 million adults must be vaccinated before she would consider international travel.
“We have around six million adults and you would think at least five million should be vaccinated before we can have those conversations [about borders],” Ms Berejiklian said at a press conference.
Joedy Kyle, creator and director of Joedy’s Cafe in New Farm, Brisbane, says the federal government is right in being cautious over reopening international borders.
“Whilst we have a vaccine, there are still large amounts of the population that are not vaccinated and people with vaccine hesitancy,” he says.
“It’s a quickly evolving virus so I think moving forward with some degree of caution is safer than shooting yourself in the foot and stepping back to when we were in lockdown.”
More than 3.1 million Australians have now been vaccinated, with 436,000 vaccines administered in the last week.