SA’s COVID-19 lockdown will hit businesses hard, but the Premier is promising support
As South Australia plunges into its biggest lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are in limbo about what support they will receive to tide them over.
The Australian Hotels Association (AHA) described the restrictions imposed on South Australia as a “brutal” response — and that was before a full lockdown was announced this morning, to curb a growing cluster of Delta variant coronavirus cases linked to a man who attended Modbury Hospital.
The lockdown started at 6:00pm and will last for seven days.
Late on Tuesday, the federal government declared local government areas in metropolitan Adelaide as well as the Gawler and the Adelaide Hills councils as “hotspots,” which means businesses in those areas can access payments.
Individuals will receive $600 if they lose more than 20 hours of work over the next week, or $375 if they lose between eight and 20 hours of work.
“These payments are made in arrears on an ongoing weekly basis so long as a hotspot definition and the lockdown requirements remain in place,” Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said.
“The payments are processed quickly, indeed in some instances individuals have reported seeing money hit their back account within 40 minutes of their application successfully being completed.
“Application details will be released over the coming days and information provided.”
SA Treasurer Rob Lucas said the COVID-19 Disaster Payment would be made available to those in designated areas, if the lockdown lasts the full seven days.
“They haven’t agreed to the whole state. They’ve tended to limit it to areas where the outbreaks have been, and in many cases that’s been the metropolitan area and maybe one or two other jurisdictions in the regions,” he said.
“We’re now looking at what we can do to try and assist those in areas not covered by the Commonwealth government, and we’re looking to see what sort of assistance we might be able to provide to people in the regions.”
Mr Lucas said the SA government would be announcing its own response measures, including grants for small business owners, on Wednesday.
“We will announce the details of the assistance for small business tomorrow,” he said.
“We’re looking at what we’ve done previously in terms of the eligibility for cash grant payments from the state government.
“There is some capacity if a lockdown goes for a period longer than, I think, two weeks to negotiate with the Commonwealth government in terms of potentially sharing some of the cost.”
What businesses are impacted?
With people forbidden from leaving their own homes except for a range of essential activities, hospitality, retail and major events are expected to be among the sectors that are hardest hit.
Events including the Winter Reds wine festival and the Adelaide Beer and Barbeque Festival — both scheduled for this weekend — have been indefinitely postponed.
“We were pulling down a half-built stage this morning that went up yesterday,” Beer and Barbeque Festival director Gareth Lewis said.
“We can’t just go and work from home, we can’t pivot and do the event next week. It costs real money and that’s money out of our pockets, out of our staff’s pockets.
“It’ll cost us about $150,000-$200,000 to reschedule.”
The Illuminate Adelaide arts festival has also hit the pause button.
“We hope to be able to restart as soon as restrictions are lifted and will advise members of the public accordingly,” the event’s website states.
While supermarkets and grocery stores, and other suppliers of certain foodstuffs, are considered “essential”, cafes, pubs and clubs will be required to close, except for takeaway services.
“You will be able to leave home for those essential purchases like food, there is no need whatsoever for panic-buying,” Premier Steven Marshall said.
After restrictions were imposed on Monday, the retailers’ union said businesses had been left confused about what constituted “essential” work, with a lengthy list of occupations on the SA government’s website.
“It’s concerning that retailers right across Adelaide right now don’t know whether they’re exempt or not exempt in relation to trade,” SDA secretary Josh Peak said.
AHA general manager Ian Horne said the hotel industry was “shocked at the severity of” the response.
“The vast majority of operators simply won’t be able to operate,” he said.
But the Premier said the cost of doing something was far less than the cost of doing nothing, and that economic considerations had to be balanced with health concerns.
“We understand there will be lots of pain points right across the state. We’re trying to, number one, control the spread of this disease and, number two, support businesses and individuals who’ve been affected,” Mr Marshall said.
“We appreciate that this is going to be hugely inconvenient, but the alternative would be absolutely catastrophic for our state, if this turned into a very extended lockdown.”
Despite the concern, some businesses are currently doing a roaring trade.
Warnings against panic buying appear to have fallen on deaf ears, with shelves picked clean at some supermarkets as people stock up on essential supplies.
“Goolwa was manic. I drove past and no carparks and surrounding streets full too,” one social media user wrote.
Another shopper said she went to a Woolworths outlet only to discover “no lettuce, no mince, no milk [and] no bread”.
The JobKeeper support scheme came to an end on March 28.
According to Business SA CEO Martin Haese there has been little in its stead.
After the state’s last lockdown, at the time of the Parafield cluster in November, business confidence in SA took its biggest hit in decades.
Mr Haese said the latest lockdown had exposed a lack of forward planning since that time.
He said, for the last six months, Business SA had been calling for a so-called COVID contingency fund “which would be a fund to support small-to-medium-sized business owners”.
Mr Haese said financial support was needed, regardless of who delivered it.
“We would look towards the state government of South Australia or the federal government or both, that if this matter continues past the weekend we would seriously want to see some support for hardworking business owners in place,” he said.
The Premier said the SA government had already invested “$4 billion worth of stimulus to support individuals, businesses and our economy in South Australia”.