Businesses count cost as hotspot lockdowns ruin holiday plans

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Holiday plans have been dashed for residents of Melbourne’s “hot zones” with people in lockdown suburbs forced to cancel getaways and stay at home.

Those already at their holiday destination were told they could continue their break, but anyone who had not set off by 11.59pm Wednesday would be banned from travelling.

The order was declared at Premier Daniel Andrews’ press conference on Tuesday.

It has left tourism operators bracing for cancellations during the busy school holiday period, adding another setback in a tumultuous year.

Affected hotels and tourism businesses who have guests cancel will find out on Wednesday how the Government plans to support them.

The announcement led to uncertainty for some holiday-makers who were worried about whether they were doing the right thing by being away.

Helen Montgomery, of Ascot Vale, one of the lockdown suburbs, said she was tentative about continuing her holiday at Halls Gap in the Grampians.

“It’s definitely confusing,” she said. “I feel lucky that we’re here but I wouldn’t be resentful if they said you’ve got to head home, I could understand that as well.”

Ms Montgomery works in a cafe in a shopping centre in Moonee Ponds, which was also placed in lockdown.

She said she was unimpressed by recent behaviour she had seen in the shopping centre, with many people not following social distancing guidelines.

“It’s definitely been getting worse, people are a bit bored of it now and being less careful,” she said. “I think people will only follow orders when it’s compulsory, not when it’s recommended.”

She and her friend Aleks Jevremovic, of Malvern East, which was not locked down, said they would stay on at their Airbnb in Halls Gap until Thursday, continuing their plans for bushwalking and wine-tasting.

Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism chairman Wayne Kayler-Thompson said “the whole situation is disappointing”.

“The industry’s devastated but you’ve just got to take account of conditions,” he said. “There’s not much you can do about it.”

It was too early to estimate the fallout from visitors having to cancel trips, he said.

He said tourism operators had been “bending over backwards to make sure they provide safe environments”.

“We’ve just got to respect and manage the virus outcome.”

Mr Andrews said on Tuesday it was “impractical” to expect people from lockdown suburbs who were already on holiday to go straight home.

He said the stay-at-home orders would be in place until at least July 29.

FEARS SHUTDOWN COULD BRING DEATH BLOW TO BUSINESSES

Businessesin areas forced into stage-three restrictions again will be eligible for $5000 grants from the State Government.

But business experts question if it will be enough as an employer group warns that jobs will be lost as traders such as cafes and restaurants return to takeaway service only.

Premier Daniel Andrews said businesses in those areas that have been able to recently reopen, such as beauty parlours, gyms and swimming pools, will again be restricted.

“We know this will have a very real impact on local businesses trading in these communities,” he said.

“We’ll help them get through this with an initial $5000 in dedicated support for businesses previously eligible for a business support fund grant or a payroll tax refund.”

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said it was another blow for business, and more jobs would be lost.

“It’s a big step backwards for businesses in those areas,” he said.

“It will mean that cafes and restaurants that had recently been doing takeaway only will have operational models in place from before.”

Mr Guerra said that while businesses and communities faced a tough time, it was vital to get the virus under control.

“It’s great that the state has recognised the effect it will have on business, and has made compensation available through the grants,” he said.

“The message for us all is that this fight is not over.”

But a finance academic has warned the $5000 grants will not be enough to keep many businesses above water.

Monash University senior lecturer in banking and finance John Vaz said small businesses did not have the reserves bigger ones did.

“In those lockdown areas you’ve got lots of mum and dad businesses in the northern and western suburbs that have gone through a particularly difficult period due to the slowdown,” he said.

“This will hit them pretty hard, so the $5000 may not be enough to keep them going.”

Dr Vaz said compared with big businesses, they did not have the working capital and creditors who gave them more time to pay.

“They don’t have that sort of power, they will be squeezed by their suppliers,” he said.

“They were probably counting on businesses opening up gradually to recover from that, to have a prolonged recovery.”

Stevie C Hair salon in Niddrie will close again and director Stevie Callus said the $5000 would not be enough to help the business through the next month.

“People are scared to go out, and social distancing in small salons is difficult,” she said.

“Every little bit of support helps financially. In stage three we ended up shutting the shop … we don’t know what we will do in the next four weeks.”

Suburbs including Fawkner and Brunswick West in Moreland are among the hot spots locked down again.

Moreland mayor Lambros Tapinos said it would be a difficult time for many residents and businesses affected by the new restrictions.

“But the safety of our community is the priority,” he said.

Mr Tapinos said the council’s next budget, to be adopted in July, would include extra relief and recovery measures as a result of the new lockdown.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the suburb-by-suburb lockdowns would devastate small businesses.

“The meagre $5000 grants won’t be enough for many small businesses to keep their doors open or their staff in jobs,” he said.

“The second wave didn’t have to occur — Daniel Andrews bungled hotel quarantine instead of accepting help from the ADF as NSW did.”

SCHOOLS OPEN FOR NOW BUT COULD CHANGE AFTER HOLIDAYS

Schools will stay open for now, even in coronavirus hot spots, but Premier Daniel Andrews has warned “this could change”.

As 10 postcodes will be locked down for a month, children in those areas are expected to continue attending schools when they reopen for term three.

But the Herald Sun believes the government will keep a close eye on next week’s COVID-19 cases to determine whether it remains safe for staff and students to return to school.

Mr Andrews said health advice indicated there was “no real evidence that school attendance is a big driver of the spike of cases”.

“The advice and the detailed analysis is that we are not seeing significant transmission between kids and adults or significant transmission out of school communities,” he said.

However, a lot could change when students return to school on June 13 after 12 days of holidays.

“I do hasten to add we are on day two of the school holidays — this could change,” Mr Andrews said.

It came as another primary school was shut in Melbourne’s northwest on Tuesday after a student was diagnosed with the virus.

Students at Aitken Creek Primary in Craigieburn were urged to stay home while contact tracing took place.

Siblings of those students were also called on to stay away from sports or activities.

A total of 14 schools are now closed for cleaning — more than half of them in Melbourne’s southwest.

Further steps to keep students safe in schools have been suggested, including the possibility of temperature checks.

Mr Andrews said staff and students being away from school and on holiday had made the government’s decisions on virus cases at schools “just a little bit easier”.

He said if the health advice changed and remote learning was forced to return, parents would be given as much notice as possible.

INQUIRY INTO HOTELS AFTER QUARANTINE BREACH FIASCO

A judicial probe into Victoria’s disastrous hotel quarantine system will zero in on clusters surrounding Rydges and the Stamford Plaza amid allegations of sexual harassment, guards propositioning guests and bungled health protocols.

Premier Daniel Andrews ordered the high-level inquiry after he received a genomic report that revealed poor practices at some hotels had led to a massive spike in coronavirus case numbers.

“A significant number and potentially more of the outbreaks to the north of the city are attributable … to staff members in hotel quarantine breaching well known and well understood infection control protocols,” Mr Andrews said.

“That is unacceptable to me. We will have a former judge conduct an inquiry into those infection control protocol breaches, and any other issues in relation to hotel quarantine.”

The inquiry will take eight to 10 weeks.

The Herald Sun can reveal that hotel quarantine woes began in early May, when a review of one security firm’s contract was undertaken after a guard was accused of harassing a nurse and staff at Rydges Hotel in Melbourne’s inner north.

The firm, Elite Protection Services, was dumped – although this is not believed to be linked to a cluster that later appeared around that hotel.

A representative of the firm denied the allegations, but said the matter of the contract termination was with lawyers and declined to comment.

In the quarantine hotels, there have been complaints about a lack of training and oversight of work done for returning travellers, which is also likely to be probed by the judicial inquiry.

Other allegations that will be looked at include whether some security guards and staff at other hotels had slipped notes under doors of guests.

One person involved in the scheme said there had been claims some workers had effectively “propositioned” guests, but it was unclear on Tuesday how widespread the practice had been.

Other issues set to be assessed include early training of staff on protective personal equipment, the way food was delivered in some hotels, and total oversight of the program.

The debacle has already seen a review of protocols and health training for staff, and the work of overseeing the program has been moved from the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Strict monitoring of staff is now in place to ensure social distancing is in place.

On Tuesday, Mr Andrews asked that no further flights be directed to Melbourne for quarantine, shifting some of the burden to other states while the program was fixed.

The Herald Sun revealed last week that Victoria had approached the federal government about diverting flights, due to issues at hotels.

Chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy had said there was an extensive review of staffing and security at accommodation venues at that time.

As of Tuesday, there were 29 cases of COVID-19 related to the Stamford Hotel on Little Collins St. Some of those cases are related to a Hallam family, where it’s suspected a contractor or staff member brought the virus home and spread it further.

The Rydges cluster had claimed 17 cases.

It is understood about a dozen hotels are participating in the quarantine program, which had been designed to stop the spread of the virus through returned international travellers, but the government has not released a full list to the public.

Chief health officer, Professor Brett Sutton, said “dozens” of cases analysed were traced to the two hotels named, but the full picture was still emerging as more testing and tracing was done.

It was also recently revealed that 30 per cent of quarantined persons were refusing a coronavirus test.

Opposition Health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the “inquiry into scandal-ridden mandatory hotel quarantine program in Victoria that has been overseen by the Labor Government is overdue”.

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josh.fagan@news.com.au

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