Richard Branson says Australia’s slow vaccine rollout hurts all businesses — these startups agree

Australian startups that rely on international travel to operate at full capacity are concerned the country’s sluggish vaccine rollout will continue to damage business and consumer confidence.

“It’s definitely unfortunate that the rollout has been delayed,” Ashley Newland, founder of The Scrubba, tells SmartCompany.

Newland, who created The Scrubba’s compact washbag for travellers, says having more people vaccinated will prevent future lockdowns and encourage more domestic travel.

His comments follow those of Virgin founder Richard Branson, who told Channel Nine on Monday he assumed most people were already vaccinated in a small country like Australia.

“It should be the number one priority of government,” Branson said.

“Because every single business in Australia will be held back. Every single person in Australia will be held back.”

As of Sunday, more than 3,613,000 vaccine doses had been administered in Australia.

However, concerns about vaccine hesitancy among those now eligible to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine have prompted calls for a better advertising campaign and incentives.

While Newland says he’s fortunate The Scrubba sells to consumers around the world as well as in Australia, revenue is still down about 35% to 40% on pre-COVID numbers.

“It has been quite a topsy turvy ride,” he says.

“Australia’s hard border closure has impacted our sales from people travelling outside of Australia.”

On top of the halt to international travel, domestic outbreaks of COVID-19 deter domestic travellers from booking trips.

“Particularly in the last 24 hours, we’ve had more cases in Victoria, so everyone here is on the lookout of what that will mean,” he says.

Ensuring a larger number of Australians are vaccinated will boost confidence and get more people travelling domestically, Newland says.

“If enough people get vaccinated, we’ll see a shift in thinking, and there will be a lot more travel certainty.”

In Victoria, new public health restrictions will be introduced from 6pm tonight, after five positive cases of COVID-19 emerged in Melbourne’s north.

Jeanette Cheah, founder of Hacker Exchange, takes the view that the rollout should be the government’s number one priority because it will lead to positive health and economic outcomes.

Prior to the pandemic, Hacker Exchange ran educational trips overseas focused on entrepreneurship.

The startup pivoted in March last year to offer students digital activities to engage with other young entrepreneurs around the world.

“We really operated at that intersection of tourism and international education, so between those two sectors we got hit pretty hard,” she says.

Cheah says she’s excited to see the rollout reach its full pace, because it will inspire confidence in founders.

“Particularly in our sector, we work with a lot of universities and international students and you can see the despondency everyday,” she adds.

“Everyone is a bit depressed in that sector at the moment.”

Ultimately, Cheah says an efficient vaccine rollout will offer sectors hard hit by international border closures “light at the end of the tunnel”.

“A full pace rollout will help increase their confidence and excitement.”

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