“We will be living with this virus for at least six months, so social distancing measures to slow this virus down must be sustainable for at least that long to protect Australian lives, allow Australia to keep functioning and keep Australians in jobs,” the Prime Minister said on Sunday night in announcing the closure of tens of thousands of businesses throughout the country.
As the government rolls out Stage 1 restrictions on social gatherings — to be reviewed on a monthly basis — pubs, clubs, cinemas, entertainment venues, casinos and gyms are just some of the businesses forced to shut in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Restaurants and cafés are restricted to takeaway and home delivery only.
“Leaders acknowledged that these new restrictions will change the way we live and expressed deep regret for those business owners and employees who will be impacted. The goal is to reduce the spread of the virus, to flatten the curve and to save the lives of fellow Australians,” Scott Morrison said.
The PM confirmed that the government will consider further Stage 2 restrictions if social distancing measures are not adhered to.
“Practising good hygiene and keeping a healthy physical distance between individuals is our most powerful weapon in fighting this virus and saving lives. The failure of some businesses and members of the public to do this puts people’s lives at risk,” he said.
“We need every Australian to do their bit to save the lives of other Australians.”
‘Retail rescue package needed’
While retail is set to remain open for now, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has warned that revenue across the board was down 30 per cent for March compared to last year, giving rise to the threat of business closure.
The executive director of the ARA, Russell Zimmerman, said the COVID-19 outbreak and public reactions to it were fast becoming “catastrophic” for retailers, and urged the government to help save thousands of retail enterprises and hundreds of thousands of jobs.
“Australian retail is the largest private sector employer in Australia, with 1.3 million people — many of them younger Australians, women, and seniors — in retail jobs, and those jobs are in grave danger of being lost,” Mr Zimmerman said.
Also lobbying for the retail sector, the national secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association, Gerard Dwyer, said that hundreds of thousands of Australians are facing the prospect of not being able to pay their rent or mortgage.
“If we lose these businesses now, those jobs will be harder to get back later,” Mr Dwyer opined.
Mr Zimmerman revealed that the ARA and the SDA had written jointly to the Prime Minister seeking a package including wage subsidies for retail workers, underwriting of a line of credit so retailers could trade without fear of insolvency, and a guarantee of retail rental payments to give retailers every chance of survival in the face of disintegrating revenues.
“We must be emphatic: the collapse in consumer spending due to panic over the coronavirus will destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs unless drastic action is taken now,” he concluded.