SA businesses call for immediate financial support amid rolling cancellations linked to COVID rules

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South Australian tourism operators say business is “as bad as it’s ever been” despite the state becoming the first COVID-zero jurisdiction to reopen its borders.

Traders have blamed confusion around the state’s border rules and the changing testing requirements in recent days linked to concerns about the Omicron variant.

The state government had hailed the reopening as a chance for businesses to bounce back after a significant downturn throughout the pandemic.

However, 20 tourism businesses across SA have written to Premier Steven Marshall, who also looks after the tourism portfolio, saying they are still struggling and will close throughout the Christmas trade period if financial support is not offered by the state government by next week.

‘An absolute disaster’

Taste the Barossa owner Dallas Coull said despite borders opening business was “as bad as it’s ever been”.

“It’s an absolute disaster for the tourism industry,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide’s David Bevan and Spence Denny.

“Our main markets are interstate and overseas people — the borders are open up wide enough for the virus to come in, but tourists aren’t coming, that’s the bottom line.”

He said there had been a lack of financial assistance from the state government for most of this year.

“We need direct financial assistance that targets businesses that the industry needs to remain viable when it bounces back … we need to remove the uncertainty around the borders,” he said.

“At every press conference they’re threatening to close the borders — that’s absolutely crippling us at the moment.”

He said the lack of financial support was glaring for operators facing significant losses.

“For SA tourism operators to know that across the border, if they were 30 per cent down because of COVID [there has] been assistance right through until now,” he said.

“In SA you could be 90 per cent down because of COVID and get nothing.”

Chook’s Little Winery Tours owner Chook McCoy said he had rolling cancellations from Queensland and Victoria in recent weeks.

“We’ve had so many cancellations … last year we were 40 to 45 per cent down on our original turnover,” Mr McCoy said.

“Now we’re 40 per cent of that, and I’m getting no support … I think I’ve received $1,000 [from the state government].”

He said he sent a letter to the Premier, but had not received a response.

“We need to get people confident to move around Australia without worrying about what the heck is going to happen to them,” Mr McCoy said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the state government said it had paid out $106 million in grants to businesses in hospitality, tourism and events in the past four months alone.

Top cop defends border rules

SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens defended the state’s approach to borders.

“Omicron just simply creates questions we don’t have answers to, so we are maintaining as much as possible a consistent approach so people can carry on with their plans and we’ll give as much notice as possible if we have concerns that would see those plans having to change,” Commissioner Stevens said.

“I don’t think it’s fair to describe the approach as being inconsistent … Omicron is an unknown quantity at this time.

“Every day that passes we get more information, and I’m as hopeful as anyone that we can sort of assess this, qualify it and make a decision about what it means for us going forward and I’m hopeful that we’re still on track for relaxing restrictions when we hit 90 per cent [double-vaccination].”

He said while there were “high levels of expectations within the community that things will change when we hit 90 per cent”, authorities were still assessing the risk of the new variant.

“We are closely monitoring a whole range of factors and let’s just hope it turns out to be as forecasting that it’s not as serious as Delta and it’s something that we can manage within our existing settings,” Commissioner Stevens said.

“We just need to make sure that we have a proper understanding of what the new variant means, but we’re still discussing relaxing restrictions at 90 per cent on our understanding of Delta.”

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ABC Radio Adelaide (Original ABC Article)