Small businesses brace for ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, even after 70% vaccination threshold is met

covid-19 restrictions

Joedy's Cafe in New Farm, Brisbane. Source: supplied.

Small businesses are preparing for COVID-19 restrictions beyond the end of the year, after an updated vaccine plan released on Tuesday indicated some public health measures could remain in place from November.

While Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously said lockdowns could be avoided if the majority of Australians are vaccinated, new modelling suggests an uncontrolled outbreak running for about six months could result in 2000 deaths, even after the vaccination threshold of 70% is achieved.

The Doherty Institute’s modelling indicates a six-month uncontrolled outbreak could cause 1300 deaths if 80% of the population is vaccinated.

In line with these scenarios, Jodie McVernon, professor and director of Doherty Epidemiology, said low public health and social measures will still be necessary with a 70% to 80% vaccination rate.

“At 80% coverage, we would be more confident that some greater social freedoms might be allowed with that level of immunisation,” she said.

Adaptability is key

Joedy Kyle, owner of two cafes in central Brisbane, believes small business owners should be prepared for continued public health measures such as QR code check-in systems and density limits.

“Any business that intends to survive COVID-19 has to be adaptable,” Kyle tells SmartCompany.

Kyle, who owns Joedy’s Cafe in New Farm and Joedy’s by Eminence in Fortitude Valley, says the prospect of ongoing density limits is troubling because those restrictions directly affect revenue.

He says businesses might need to look at how they assess rental value if social distancing and density requirements become permanent fixtures.

“Obviously, if we were impacted in the capacity that we’re able to seat then that impacts our ability to make money,” he says.

Kyle is no stranger to COVID-19 restrictions. He opened his first cafe in New Farm in early 2020, before opening his second cafe in an office complex in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, just weeks before parts of Queensland entered an eight-day lockdown.

Since restrictions came into effect once again last Saturday, his headcount dropped from 26 to seven actively working staff.

“We have survived with density limits since we opened in March last year, so we would just amend our business model accordingly,” he says.

State government contact tracing is likely to remain a permanent public health measure in 2022 but Kyle says he wouldn’t be concerned if QR code check-in systems continue to be a requirement. 

“We’ve implemented them for over 12 months now, so for us they are almost a normal part of our business,” he says.

Jabs in retail venues 

The updated plan for Operation COVID shield suggests that 80% of Australians could be fully vaccinated by December if more venues, such as retail spaces, are utilised as vaccination hubs. 

The new timeline includes ramping up the number of vaccination venues over three stages, with the third stage to include retail hubs such as shopping centres and supermarkets.

It’s unclear whether the federal or state governments will manage those hubs, but installation is scheduled to begin in October, with the first vaccines set to be administered by November.

A new communication strategy will also help speed up the rollout using information tailored to specific industries like retail and hospitality as well as information packs for employers running workplace vaccinations. 

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