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Covid-19 News Updates

WA rolls out another $72m business support scheme ahead of "rockiest month"

WA rolls out another $72m business support scheme ahead of "rockiest month"

Hot on the heels of last week’s $67 million support for WA businesses affected by COVID-19 comes a new $72 million business assistance package announced today by the Western Australian Government.

Aimed at Western Australian businesses most affected by Level 2 public health and social measures, the bulk of the new deal is in $66.8 million worth of Small Business Hardship Grants, while other funds include $2.8 million of payroll tax relief for large hospitality businesses and $2.1 million for a COVID-19 Commercial Sporting Franchises Support Program.

Small and medium businesses (SMEs) with a 50 per cent reduction in turnover year-on-year for any four week period between 1 January 2022 and 30 April 2022 are eligible to apply for the tiered grant.

"My government is committed to doing everything we can to help protect WA businesses, local jobs and the economy from the full brunt of COVID-19,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said after announcing the fifth business package since December.

"That is why we have now committed more than $420 million in business support since December, and a total of almost $1.7 billion since the beginning of the pandemic.

"We know that WA is about to enter its rockiest month - but under these Level 2 measures, businesses can continue to operate safely, so I encourage everyone to do the right thing, follow the health advice and support local businesses.

"With our world-leading vaccination rates and safe and sensible measures in place, Western Australians can have confidence to continue to support WA businesses - we will get through this together."

Owners of small and medium-sized businesses will be eligible for the following grants from the Small Business Hardship Grants Program:

  • $3,000 grant for sole traders (no employees);
  • $7,500 grant for micro-businesses (those with one to five employees);
  • $20,000 grant for small businesses (those with six to 19 employees); and
  • $50,000 for medium-sized businesses (those with 20 or more employees and with an annual payroll of up to $4 million).

Large hospitality businesses with payrolls of between $4 million and $20 million will receive a three-month payroll tax waiver if they have experienced at least a 50 per cent drop in turnover over any four week period between 1 January 2022 and 30 April 2022, comparable to the same period last year.

Eligible businesses that apply and receive funding from other recent business support programs, including the Level 1 COVID-19 Business Assistance Package, are also eligible to receive grants from the Level 2 package.

The $2.1 million COVID-19 Commercial Sporting Franchises Support Program includes a $35,000 rebate per game for venue hire costs until June 30, 2022, for commercial sporting franchises, such as the Perth Glory, Perth Wildcats, Perth Lynx and the Western Force.

This program also includes the waiver of public transport charges for home games for these teams in March - and a 50 per cent concession on public transport costs for events in April.

The announcement follows support provided through several recent arts and events support programs, including the revamped $10 million Getting the Show Back on the Road+ program, $3 million Event Suppliers Support Program, the $1.3 million Performing Arts, Theatres and Cinemas Assistance Program, and an additional $9 million to attract major events to WA.

It is expected that applications to these programs will open later this month.

"In Australia, the data shows that once a jurisdiction hits one thousand new cases a day, the peak of the Omicron outbreak is only a few weeks away,” McGowan said.

"The latest advice is that we should now expect to see WA reach the peak of cases in the next two weeks or so.

"That is how fast we expect Omicron to spread here and why we've had to move quickly to implement Level 2 public health and social measures.

"While we hope these measures will only need to be in place for a short time, or about four weeks, we know that there will be an impact on businesses regardless.”

WA recorded 1,770 new cases of COVID on Wednesday, bringing the active cases in the state to 6,979. Sixteen people remain in the hospital, with no patients in ICU.

As WA reopens its borders to the world tomorrow, with a 64.6 per cent COVID booster vaccination rate, the full state will move under level two restrictions.

Level 2 restrictions will include children from Years 3 upwards having to wear masks in all public indoor settings and will see major venue capacity cut to a 50 per cent limit. Home gatherings are limited to a total of 10 people indoors and outdoors, except weddings and funerals.

The measure also includes the two square metre rule and 150 patron capacity limit, for fitness venues, hospitality, entertainment venues, nightclubs, and galleries and museums, with seated service only. Private outdoor gatherings in a public space will be limited to 50 people.

Updated at 2:20pm AWST on 2 March 2022.

Tenant and landlord relief, alfresco program part of new $67m WA funding for businesses

Tenant and landlord relief, alfresco program part of new $67m WA funding for businesses

The Western Australian Government has today launched an additional $67 million of assistance packages to support businesses affected by COVID-19.  

As cases start to increase exceptionally within the state, the measures aim to assist small businesses with cash flow and support safe trading.

The package includes up to $6,000 in rent relief, outdoor dining and entertainment support grants, as well as further funding for business counselling services.

"As COVID-19 caseloads continue to increase, and with some public health and social measures in place to manage the spread of the virus, we expect some businesses will experience declines in revenue,” Premier of WA Mark McGowan said.

"For some, this impact will be greater than others and likely put pressure on their cash flow. Our latest $67 million businesses support package recognises these impacts and supports those businesses most impacted to get through the next phase of the pandemic.

"Over the past two years, Western Australians have done the right thing and supported local businesses and now is the time to continue to patron WA businesses, venues and events.”

The new support, consisting of eight tailored packages, is in addition to the McGowan Government’s $77 million Safe Transition Industry Support Package released earlier in February.

Small Business Rental Relief Package

  • $42 million Tenant Rent Relief Scheme providing grants of $3,000 to eligible small business tenants;
  • $10.7 million Landlord Rent Relief Incentive supporting eligible landlords with $1,500 - who voluntary match the Government's Tenant Rent Relief payments; and
  • $1.5 million Tenant Rental Credit Scheme providing a rental waiver or credit of $6,000 for eligible small business tenants of Government-owned buildings.

Outdoor Dining and Entertainment Support Package

  • $5 million Alfresco Support Program to reimburse small businesses in the hospitality sector with up to $5,000 for eligible costs associated with creating and expanding an alfresco area to meet the requirements of public health and social measures; 
  • $3.5 million Waiver of Liquor Licensing fees. Liquor licence renewal fees for 2022 will be waived and refunds provided for businesses that have already paid. One-off fees for variations to liquor licensing to enable alfresco services will also be waived, and fees for a COVID-19 occasional permit will be waived to permit the sale of takeaway alcohol as part of a takeaway meal;
  • $1.8 million Nightclub Assistance Program payments of up to $50,000 for eligible nightclubs impacted by capacity limits and social distancing; and
  • $1.3 million Performing Arts, Theatres and Cinemas Assistance Program, providing payments of up to $50,000 to provide cash flow assistance to a range of larger, indoor entertainment venues that are particularly affected by capacity constraints.

Other business support

  • $1 million Small Business Financial Counselling and Advisory Services funding to expand small business support services administered by the Department of Communities.

McGowan said Western Australians could have confidence in safely going out and socialising with friends and family, thanks to the state's "world-leading vaccination rate and sensible public health measures".

"Under these Level 1 public health rules and by keeping up our COVID safe practices, we can continue to operate safely and keep businesses in business," he said.

"Our strong financial position by maintaining a healthy budget has given us the capacity to provide this immediate assistance.

"Since December, we have provided four financial support packages for WA businesses, including the Safe Transition Industry Support Package, ReconnectWA and grants for businesses impacted by the Delta backpacker outbreak, taking the total investment to assist WA businesses through the pandemic to date to $1.6 billion."

The Western Australian hard border is set to open on 3 March - the date WA is forecast to reach 70 per cent third dose vaccination of its eligible 16+ population, with several requirements in place for those entering the state.

Anyone wishing to enter WA will need a registered G2G pass and be fully vaccinated. Interstate arrivals over the age of 16 will need to be triple-dosed. International arrivals only need two doses of an approved vaccine as they fall under Commonwealth government requirements as opposed to state mandates.

If you are vaccinated, there is no requirement to quarantine, but the unvaccinated will need to complete hotel quarantine for 14 days. All vaccinated arrivals are required to take a rapid antigen test within 12 hours of arriving in WA.

The Perth, Peel, South West, Wheatbelt, Great Southern and Pilbara regions have been under Level 1 measures since Monday, 21 February.

Level 1 measures include private indoor capacity limits of up to 30 people and a capacity limit of 200 people at private outdoor gatherings as long as people can adhere to the 2sqm rule.

The 2sqm density rule also applies to venues including hospitability, fitness, entertainment, galleries and museums, hairdressers, nightclubs (with a 500-capacity limit), Perth Crown complex, convention centres and community, recreation and youth centre facilities.

Masks are mandatory for anyone aged 12 or above in an indoor setting other than the home, unless an exemption applies.

Weddings and funerals have to adhere to the same capacity limits, and proof of vaccination is required to enter most venues including Perth Zoo and Perth’s Optus stadium.

Perth recorded 610 new cases on 24 February, bringing the total active cases to 2,272. There are currently seven patients in hospital with COVID, but none are in ICU.

1.2 million of the population, over 16, have received three doses – 60.1 per cent of the population. Ninety-six per cent of people living in West Australia have been double vaccinated.

Further public health and social measures (Level 2) may be introduced in the future to help reduce increasing transmission of COVID-19 and hospitalisations, if necessary.

The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has welcomed the Government’s $67 million support package.

“Covid cases are continuing to rise in WA and additional restrictions have been put in place, so a decline in revenue is inevitable for some businesses as they battle through this challenging period,” ARA CEO Paul Zahra said. 

“We’ve been in close contact with the WA Government discussing the ongoing challenges for small businesses, and we appreciate the speed in which they have put these supports in place as a direct result of our advocacy.

“Rent is a significant pain point for small business, and with limited customers shopping in physical stores at the moment, many will struggle to pay their operating costs. The rent relief grants will help cushion the blow from the current wave of new COVID cases and help businesses to keep the lights on and their doors open.”

Updated at 1:10pm AWST on 24 February 2022.

Australian Clinical Labs lifts profit six-fold on prospectus forecast at $130m

Australian Clinical Labs lifts profit six-fold on prospectus forecast at $130m

Australian Clinical Labs (ASX: ACL) has been collecting both swabs and earnings as a wave of COVID-19 testing propped up revenue by 61.2 per cent in the December half, reaching $538 million and thus surpassing its entire revenue for FY20.

Formed as a spin-off of Healthscope’s Australian pathology business in 2015, ACL listed on the ASX in May last year with a net profit after tax (NPAT) forecast for 1H22 of $22.4 million, but that figure has instead shot up by a multiple of almost six to hit $130.3 million.

The result also beats guidance of up to $128 million as released on 21 December, but shares have fallen back by 3.18 per cent amidst a broader market sell-off and an expected moderation of COVID testing as the virus transitions to an endemic status.

It has been a similar story for competitor Sonic Healthcare (ASX: SHL) which saw a 22 per cent rise in its global revenue in the half, and like ACL its shares have dropped up sharply in early 2022 as testing wanes.

ACL opened a purpose-built lab in Brisbane in November with dedicated clinical trials and community laboratories, and the following month completed its $70 million acquisition of Medlab Pathology, doubling its market share in NSW to 20.4 per cent and securing a 6.5 per cent share in QLD as a market entry platform.

The company's chief executive officer and managing director Melinda McGrath says Australian Clinic Labs has played an essential role in the country's response to COVID over the past two years in what has at times been a challenging operating environment.

"At the same time the team have delivered growth in our core business, driven operational improvements across the organisation while simultaneously completing two acquisitions," she says.

“The strong result achieved in 1H FY22 demonstrates the value of the significant prior investment in the business which resulted in further operating leverage, efficiencies, improved productivity and increased automation and digitisation.

"There exist several opportunities to continue to grow the business including via our commercial offering and our established clinical trials business. We have strong foundations in technology and systems and a highly experienced performance-driven management team to execute our well-defined growth strategy."


Slater & Gordon injured by lockdowns with $7.5m loss

Slater & Gordon injured by lockdowns with $7.5m loss

Slater & Gordon (ASX: SGH) shares fell to all-time lows this morning after the firm revealed a $10.6 million swing into the red for its December half results, as lockdowns led to less work in its personal injury law (PIL) business.

The Melbourne-based company, also known for its class action work, reported a $7.5 million loss compared to a $3.1 million profit in the previous corresponding period.

"While these results are disappointing, the fact that we have been able to largely absorb the impact of the significant disruptions caused by the COVID pandemic to date shows we have made reasonable progress in rebuilding the resilience of our business. However, we clearly have more work to do," CEO John Sommerville said.

"This half demonstrated how unpredictable the impacts of COVID and the government restrictions can be."

The personal injury law division accounts for the bulk of the firm's revenue, and was down 14.3 per cent at $71.8 million. Fees actually rose slightly, but work in progress-related revenue plummeted by around two-thirds as lockdowns in Victoria and NSW impacted file progression.

"It was pleasing to see the resilience of our Personal Injury Law fees, which demonstrates the hard work put in by our people in extremely trying times," Sommerville said.

At the time of writing SGH shares are down by almost 6 per cent at $0.63, having fallen to as low as $0.61 earlier this morning.

The law firm notes that until the December half its performance had not been materially impacted by the pandemic, and while there has been some improvement following the easing of restrictions, COVID-related restrictions on work remain which may continue to affect performance.

Class action fees also declined in the half by 5 per cent, although SGH says a highlight was securing compensation and an apology for First Nations survivors of abuse suffered as children at the Garden Point Catholic Church mission on Melville Island.

Slater & Gordon also highlights a continued focus on social justice with 73 employees working on a pro bono basis to support Afghan refugees with immigration applications.

Expenses have also gone up by 3 per cent, mostly because of ongoing investment in hiring talent to support growth, as well as a build-up of leave provisions arising from extended lockdowns in Victoria and New South Wales.

The firm has neither sought nor received Jobkeeper assistance at any time.

Welcome back: Australia reopens to double-vaccinated international travellers

Welcome back: Australia reopens to double-vaccinated international travellers

After closing international borders almost two years ago, Australia is welcoming double-vaccinated travellers into the nation as 56 flights touch down in the country today.

While passengers must take a rapid-antigen test (RAT) or PCR test within 24 hours of their arrival, they are only required to quarantine until they receive a negative result.

The mandate applies to most states and territories - with the exception of Western Australia, which will require international arrivals to undertake a rapid antigen test within 12 hours of arriving from 3 March. On the same date, WA will also open its borders to triple-dosed interstate travellers. 

The first flight into Sydney touched down from Los Angeles at 6:20am and was followed by arrivals from Tokyo and Vancouver.

Qantas Group (ASX: QAN) CEO Alan Joyce said bookings had been strong since the government announced the country was opening to international visitors, with today’s arrivals to be the first of many.

“It’s fair to say we’ve all been waiting a long time to welcome visitors back to Australia. The thousands of international tourists arriving this week and many more over the coming months will help kickstart the tourism industry which has done it tough for the past couple of years,” Joyce said.

“We’re in this position today thanks to the millions of Australians who rolled up their sleeves to get the jab and give the Australian Government and state and territory governments’ confidence that we can safely reopen to the world.

“We can clearly see from the Australian Government’s announcement that people are very keen to come back to Australia, and we continue to see strong bookings out of the US and UK, as well as South Africa and Canada.”

Unvaccinated travellers who do not hold medical exemptions must enter hotel quarantine for seven to 14 days, depending on which state or territory they arrive in.

For example, New South Wales has mandated a seven-day hotel quarantine period for unvaccinated arrivals, whilst South Australia has a 14-day quarantine in place.  

There are approximately 1.23 million student, visitor and working holiday maker visa holders offshore who, if vaccinated, will be able to travel into Australia.

The return of double international visitors is welcome news for Australia's tourism sector, which supports 660,000 jobs and contributed $60.4 billion to the economy in 2018-19.

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan said the return of international arrivals was an important step in Australia's COVID-19 recovery.

“Australia's health and economic response to the pandemic has been among the best in the world, with one of the highest vaccination rates and low mortality,” he said.

“We are successfully managing the pandemic and learning to live with the virus. Australians are travelling overseas, and we are welcoming international visitors to our country.

“International tourists will come here to see our iconic attractions, sample our world-leading food and drink, learn about our Indigenous culture, and enjoy the Australian way of life.”

Tourism Australia Managing Director Phillipa Harrison said the tourism industry has been looking forward to the return of international tourists.

“At Tourism Australia we are so excited to be welcoming back international visitors who make up a critical part of our visitor economy,” Harrison said.

“We know Australia remains an incredibly desirable destination for international visitors and we can’t wait to once again share all of the unforgettable tourism experiences we have to offer here in Australia.”

Australia launches new national brand

In the lead up to the border reopening, the federal government announced a new national brand that features a kangaroo and the tagline “Only in Australia.”

Co-created with indigenous designers, the brand elements are inspired by ancient stories from the Dreaming – which is an indigenous religion and worldview – and embody the spirit of Yamulhu awara ambirriju, meaning ‘Good country up ahead, good feeling for the future’ in the Yanyuwa language spoken by families in Borroloola in the Northern Territory.

More than 300 marketing resources will be available for free to help Australian businesses attract overseas investment and visitors.

Australia's Nation Brand logo

Development was led by Australia’s Nation Brand Advisory Council, including business leaders such as Fortescue Metals (ASX: FMG) and Future Industries Chair Andrew Forrest AO, Atlassian co-founder and CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, and Vogue, GQ and Publisher Prestige editor-in-chief Edwina McCann. 

“In an increasingly connected and competitive international market, celebrating our unique Australian character with a unified and strong Nation Brand will help us stand out from the pack and the tagline ‘Only in Australia’ will amplify Australia’s reputation for quality, creativity and innovation,” said brand advisory council chair Dr Forrest.

The federal, state and territory governments were consulted through the process, as well as more than 480 senior industry representatives and 22,000 people in Australia.

More than 350 Australian organisations have already taken the national brand and tagline on board.

Updated at 4.44pm AEDT on 21 February 2022.

Spending vouchers, ventilation upgrades to breathe new life into Victoria with $200m stimulus

Spending vouchers, ventilation upgrades to breathe new life into Victoria with $200m stimulus

A wide-reaching support package has been announced in Victoria that will encourage people to get out and enjoy the state's cultural offering, while equipping businesses with the tools to lift confidence and capacity through improved ventilation, job placements and digitalisation.

The state government's $200 million package aims to help businesses recover strongly from the effects of the Omicron variant, targeting key sectors such as hospitality and tourism.

A new and extended $100 million voucher scheme will provide rebates to Victorians for entertainment, dining and travel with a $10 million round of Melbourne Money to be delivered with the City of Melbourne, enticing diners back to city cafes, bars and restaurants by reimbursing part of their bill.

The scheme will be extended across the state, with a new $30 million program providing rebates on food and wine experiences in regional areas and in suburbs beyond Melbourne’s borders.

A new entertainment voucher scheme will provide $30 million in rebates for tickets to the theatre, live music, cinemas, museums, galleries, conferences, exhibitions and other events across Victoria.

A new $30 million round of the Victorian Travel Voucher Scheme will encourage even more people to holiday at home and spend on accommodation, attractions and tours.

"This will help businesses in the creative sector while encouraging Victorians to get back to what they love doing," says Minister for Creative Industries Danny Pearson.

"Our arts and cultural scene was hit hard by the global pandemic and that’s why we’re supporting these businesses to bounce back in 2022."

The fresh stimulus also includes a $60 million Ventilation Voucher Program to help small businesses purchase equipment and upgrades to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace and improve customer confidence, with rebates of up to $5,000 available as well as $500 vouchers.

The government is also taking steps to support jobs, training and upgrading systems to new technologies. Some $34.2 million of Jobs Victoria funding will be used to place workers in more than 1,500 jobs across hospitality, warehousing and logistics, tourism and food processing.

A further $5 million will extend the Small Business Digital Adaptation Program, providing rebates of up to $1,200 so businesses can access a range of digital tools.

The extension of the Business Recovery and Resilience Mentoring Program with the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry will also mean more small businesses will have access to coaching.

“We’re encouraging Victorians to experience the best the state has to offer by going to see a show, having lunch with friends or visiting somewhere new," says Minister for Industry Support and Recovery Martin Pakula.

“Business and consumer confidence is critical for our continued economic recovery and that’s why we’re investing in these programs to deliver a boost where it is needed most.”

Singing and dancing back in NSW from tomorrow as most restrictions ease

Singing and dancing back in NSW from tomorrow as most restrictions ease

New South Wales has followed its southern counterpart Victoria in announcing a raft of eased COVID-19 restrictions today, set to come into effect from tomorrow.

Described as “measured” and “appropriate” by Premier Dominic Perrottet, the easing of restrictions includes the removal of density limits and the reintroduction of singing and dancing in indoor venues.

In addition, the state government will no longer recommend people work from home, and will instead leave that direction to be at the discretion of employers.

“These changes today are measured and proportionate to circumstances we find ourselves in,” the Premier said.

“We are able to lift these restrictions based on the efforts that people have made right across the state.”

As such, from Friday 18 February, the two-square-metre density limit will be removed, and singing and dancing will be permitted at all venues except for music festivals where it will recommence from 25 February.

QR check-in requirements will be ditched across the board, except for nightclubs and at music festivals with more than 1,000 people in attendance.

One week later, on 25 February, even more restrictions will be eased, including the removal of the mask mandate and the 20,000 person cap on music festivals.

Masks will no longer be required in indoor settings except for on public transport, but the NSW Government will still encourage masks be worn where individuals cannot maintain a safe distance from others.

Finally, the duration of hotel quarantine for unvaccinated travellers will be reduced from 14 days to just seven.

“As we move forward, there is the potential that we will have spikes in cases from time to time,” Perrottet noted.

“That is not a measure of success or failure, that is living alongside the virus. This is the new reality.”

Updated at 1.32pm AEDT on 17 February 2022.

Victoria's COVID restrictions to ease as hospitalisation and infection numbers fall

Victoria's COVID restrictions to ease as hospitalisation and infection numbers fall

The Victorian Government will ease COVID-19 restrictions from 6pm tomorrow in line with decreasing hospitalisation and infection numbers, and as more than half of the state’s eligible population has received three doses of a vaccine.

Density limits will increase, dancefloors will return and QR code check-in requirements will be ditched in some settings at 6pm Friday, 18 February.

“We always said these measures wouldn’t be in place for a minute longer than they are needed, and with hospitalisation numbers decreasing and less pressure on our health system, now is a sensible time to make changes,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.

“We’re grateful to everyone who has been doing the right thing, helping to reduce the impact of this virus on the community, our healthcare system and our economy.”

As part of new pandemic orders to be signed by the Minister for Health, density limits of one person per two square meters in place at hospitality and entertainment venues will be removed. Indoor dancefloors at these venues can also re-open.

Under the orders, QR code check-in requirements will no longer be in place at retail venues, schools (including childcare and early childhood) and for employees at many workplaces. QR code check-in and vaccination check requirements will remain in all ‘vaccinated economy’ settings such as hospitality and entertainment venues.

Further, mandatory surveillance testing requirements for key industries including meat processing will be scrapped, in favour of the government moving to make testing ‘recommended-only’.

Requirements for hospital worker ‘bubbles’ will also be removed, but health services may still implement them at their discretion.

Small adjustments will also occur to border settings for international arrivals, who will no longer be required to obtain an international arrivals permit through Service Victoria. The 14-day hotel quarantine period for international visitors and aircrew who aren’t fully vaccinated or medically exempt will reduce to seven days.

The changes come in light of increased vaccination rates in Victoria, alongside decreased hospitalisation and infection numbers.

When Victoria’s density quotient restrictions were first announced on 6 January, the third dose vaccination rate for Victorians aged 16 and over was only 12.7 per cent, compared to 52.2 per cent today. When the dancefloor closure was announced on 10 January, 818 Victorians were in hospital with COVID-19, compared to 401 today.

“These are safe and sensible measures which balance the need to support our health system with the benefits of easing restrictions across a range of settings,” Victorian Minister for Health Martin Foley said.

“Changes to QR code requirements will still support our focus on the highest-risk settings most likely to generate super-spreader events – and we will keep reviewing the system over time in line with the epidemiological situation.”

Victoria reported 14 deaths from COVID-19 today, and 8,501 new cases.

Updated at 12.58pm AEDT on 17 February 2022.

Vital Signs: small businesses need a national support plan to survive shadow lockdowns

Vital Signs: small businesses need a national support plan to survive shadow lockdowns

The “shadow lockdown” accompanying the Omicron outbreak should have come as no surprise to Australia’s policy makers. But the type of government support that helped so many individuals and businesses survive the official lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 is absent.

In the face of large case counts, hospitalisations and deaths from Omicron, people voluntarily cut back on economic activity. Why risk going out for a meal or sitting in a theatre while infections are raging?

This effect was quantified as early as mid-2020 by two University of Chicago economists, who calculated (using data from 2.25 million businesses across 110 industries) that nearly 90% of the reduction in economic activity in the United States stemmed from voluntary “self-lockdowns”, rather than government-imposed restrictions.

In Australia, we can see the effect in consumer confidence plummeting in January 2022 to its lowest level since October 2020 (and the worst January result since 1992).

For many small business owners, the past month has felt like the most difficult period of the pandemic. The single biggest government support measure, the A$90 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme, was phased out in March 2021, with most other support winding up by the end of the year.

Given small businesses employ more than 5 million Australians – more than 40% of private-sector jobs – how we can help them survive this pandemic now, and if more COVID variants emerge?

The current patchwork of state and federal COVID payments

The following tables summarise the COVID-specific support programs that are still available today.

For individuals, the main support is the federal government’s Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment, which provides up to $1,500 for two weeks for individuals who cannot work because of having to isolate, quarantine or care for someone with COVID-19.

Most states and territories also provide a lesser one-off payment to support those who have to isolate but who can’t access the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment.

On the business side, the federal government has its SME Recovery Loan Scheme, which guarantees 50% of loan amounts for eligible businesses with turnovers up to $250 million. This scheme is scheduled to run until June 30, 2022.

The states and territories have wound up most of their general business support programs, with what remains targeted at particular interest groups or sectors.

Most generous are the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory governments, which have “business hardship” packages offering rebates to reduce or waive payments such as payroll tax, utilities bills and rates.

New South Wales has a more limited rebate scheme, offering up to $2,000 to sole traders, small businesses and not-for-profit organisations to offset costs such as food licences, liquor licences, tradesperson licences, event fees, outdoor seating fees, council rates and road user tolls. It also has (my personal favourite) the Alfresco Restart Rebate, giving up $5,000 for restaurants to create or expand their outdoor dining area.

Queensland has a cleaning rebate for businesses and not-for-profit organisations designated exposure sites by Queensland Health. Victoria has a scheme to help commercial tenants cover rent.

Paying to save jobs across NSW

But given how tough small businesses are doing it, many people think these measures aren’t enough.

One of those people is the NSW treasurer, Matt Kean.

On January 30 he announced $1 billion in support for businesses with “JobSaver 2.0”, resurrecting the JobSaver program that had subsidised up to 40% of payroll expenses for businesses suffering a 30% fall in turnover due to official lockdowns.

JobSaver 2.0 reimburses businesses (of less than $50 million turnover) 20% of their weekly payroll, up to a cap of $5,000, if they have lost 40% of turnover during January.

JobSaver had been half funded by the federal government. Kean did not disguise his unhappiness about the federal government refusing to help with JobSaver 2.0, saying:

I was hoping to make this announcement standing beside the Prime Minister today and the Treasurer [Josh] Frydenberg, but they’re not to be found

Frydenberg, reportedly, did take Kean’s proposal to the prime minister, who in March 2020 had approved A$320 billion of fiscal support (equivalent to 16.4% of GDP). But this time, Scott Morrison apparently rejected the idea.

The case for a national plan

This is more than just a question of who pays – the Commonwealth or the states and territories. It’s about what is going to be required to get small businesses, who often have fragile balance sheets, through this stage of the pandemic.

One view is the Omicron cases are falling and consumer confidence should pick up, so there’s no need for extra support now.

But it would be rather brave to predict there won’t be further COVID-19 variants and outbreaks. If and when there are, consumers will go back into self-lockdown.

Do we really want more argy-bargy between states and the feds in the future, while consumer confidence plummets and with it small business revenues?

A far better solution would be to have an Australia-wide, federally funded support plan triggered by case numbers.

This would provide predictable support for business, including those working across state borders, by allowing them to plan, invest and keep hiring workers. And it would deliver a shot of confidence for consumers for the remainder of the pandemic – however long that may be.

The alternative is to stay in a constant crouch, waiting for the next outbreak and hoping some form of government support will arrive in time.

We should be able to do better by our small businesses and the many Australians who work for them.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Victoria to lift hospital Code Brown alert on Monday

Victoria to lift hospital Code Brown alert on Monday

Hospitals in Victoria will no longer be operating under a Code Brown alert from this coming Monday, 14 February, with the state government confident the COVID situation is coming under control - easing pressure on the system.

At a press conference today, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley announced the state was in a position to lift the Code Brown alert safely, meaning more elective surgeries will be able to go ahead.

“While we’re still going to be very, very busy, we are in a position to safely lift the code brown alert,” Foley said.

“It also allows us to continue down the path of the careful, steady relaxation of the deferral of elective surgery.”

As such, private sector areas will be allowed to return to 50 per cent of all elective surgery arrangements, while regional healthcare providers can return to 70 per cent of elective surgeries.

“It will be extended to multi-day locations and facilities, therefore allowing more complex and serious operations to be brought in,” Foley said.

“We will continue to monitor the arrangements in place in close consultation with private operators.”

Victoria today recorded 13 deaths and 8,521 new cases of COVID-19. There are 553 people with the virus in the state’s hospital system, of which 82 are in intensive care.

Updated at 1.22pm AEDT on 11 February 2022.