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Covid-19 News Updates

City of Melbourne urges government support as Omicron hurts trade

City of Melbourne urges government support as Omicron hurts trade

The City of Melbourne is calling for a new round of government support for traders and incentives to boost visitation after a recent survey by the council found three in four businesses are struggling to survive the current Omicron outbreak.

The survey also found 74 per cent of city business owners are barely surviving or are under intense distress, while 53 per cent aren’t confident they can remain open for more than three months.

Councillors will meet on Tuesday to consider lobbying the state and federal governments to implement measures that will mitigate the impacts of Omicron on businesses, including:   

  • a third serving of the successful Melbourne Money scheme, which has injected $60 million into city cafes, bars and restaurants 
  • an additional round of hotel vouchers to support stays in the CBD 
  • free public transport for major events such as Moomba, which will return to the city in March 
  • the removal of the work-from-home advice, and a return of public servants to the CBD, as soon as it’s safe to do so. 

Lord Mayor Sally Capp says the survey indicates business confidence is declining, particularly among the city’s hospitality and retail sector. 

“We know Melbourne’s business owners are incredibly resilient, but the Omicron outbreak is having a significant impact as people isolate or understandably take it upon themselves to limit their movements,” she says.

"It's clear the economic impacts of the Omicron variant are similar to those felt during lockdowns. However, our business owners aren't currently receiving financial support.

“Through speaking with traders and seeing the raw data, we know our Melbourne Money schemes have been incredibly successful in bringing people back to the city and back into businesses after lockdowns. We want to replicate that success with a third serving.”

The first course of the Melbourne money scheme was introduced in May 2021, and allowed diners to claim 20 per cent off their bill when spending $50 or more at all restaurants, cafes and bars across Melbourne’s CBD.

A second round was initiated in November, with the rebate boosted to 30 per cent if diners came in to spend between Monday and Thursday.

“We need the state and federal governments to urgently introduce initiatives and commit to ensure Melbourne businesses can weather the impacts of COVID-19, as we live with the virus in our community,” Capp says.

Updated at 11:26am AEDT on 28 January 2022.

NSW extends current restrictions to 28 February

NSW extends current restrictions to 28 February

As COVID hospitalisation rates approach 3,000 in NSW, the state's government has decided to extend current restrictions by a month to 28 February as a "measured response" as students return to school and authorities look to restart non-urgent elective surgery as soon as possible.

Measures that will continue include the following:

  • Hospitality venues, including pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes, and nightclubs must follow the one person per two square metre rule indoors;
  • Masks are required in all indoor settings (except residences). Masks are strongly encouraged where you cannot maintain a safe distance from others;
  • QR code check-ins are compulsory at certain premises, including hospitality venues and retail shops;
  • Singing and dancing is not permitted in hospitality venues, entertainment facilities, nightclubs, indoor music festivals and indoor major recreation facilities (except for weddings, performers, instructors and students). 
  • With more than 209,000 reported active COVID cases in NSW, and this figure likely underestimates the true spread due to the unavailability of rapid antigen tests, Premier Dominic Perrottet says rolling  over these measures would continue to protect the community and health system. 

“The gap between your second jab and your booster is now just three months, so don’t waste time – the sooner we all get our boosters the sooner we will overcome this Omicron wave,” Hazzard says.

“The NSW community has put in an extraordinary effort to get the first two doses of the COVID vaccine, making us one of the most vaccinated populations worldwide. It’s now extremely important to back it in with your booster to lift your protection against the highly transmissible Omicron strain.”

“We have always said we will respond to what is in front of us and tailor our approach as required and that is exactly what we are doing,” Perrottet says.

“We are transitioning to living with COVID and we will need to continually update our approach to ensure we are keeping people safe and protecting our health system. 

“It is vital people continue to come forward and get their booster shots to help keep themselves, their family and the community safe.”

Minister for Health Brad Hazzard says there is plenty of availability and supply of boosters in the NSW Health vaccination clinics, so those eligible for their booster shot should book as soon as possible.

People aged 18 years and older can receive their booster dose at three months after receiving their second dose of any of the COVID-19 vaccines.

According to NSW Health, 93.9 per cent of the population aged 16 and over have received two vaccine doses, while more than a third have had three doses.

18,512 new cases were reported in the 24 hours to 8pm last night and 29 lives lost, with 183 patients currently in the intensive care unit (ICU) with the virus.

Updated at 10:28am AEDT on 25 January 2022.

Victoria partners up with supermarkets to tackle workforce shortage

Victoria partners up with supermarkets to tackle workforce shortage

The Victorian government has joined forces with leading supermarket chains to fill workforce shortages by linking thousands of local jobseekers to food retailers.

Starting the program earlier this month, Jobs Victoria has already received more than 2,000 people expressing interest to work in Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and wholesaler Metcash as an outflux of COVID-positive employees leave retailers understaffed.  

Roles available include pick-packers to assemble online orders, night-fillers to restock shelves, cashiers, delivery drivers and forklift operators.

“We've had some 2,000 people register their interest to work in our supermarket system and that's critically important given that there are hundreds, indeed, thousands of staff - whether it be at Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, or wholesaler Metcash - who have not been able to report for duty,” said Victorian Premier Dan Andrews.

“That's behind the scenes - the government working with our supermarkets to give people who are out of work, the skills and support they need to do the job that we need them to do."

The state government also plans to supply 25,000 rapid antigen tests (RATs) on a cost recovery basis to critical utilities and food supply chain services, including meat and poultry suppliers.

“Over the past few weeks, we've seen every part of the food supply chain has been impacted through team member isolations and workforce not being available. Whether that's farmers, food processers, manufacturers, transport - it's impacted in our own distribution centres in Coles and in our own stores," said Coles executive general manager of central operations & transformation Kevin Gunn.

“Many team members have stepped up and taken on additional hours.”

To try and manage the demand, Coles has provided further skills training to 77,000 employees in order increase flexibility as challenges continue to arise.  

“We've been working with Jobs Victoria, who have done an amazing job. We've had over 1,000 candidates come forward,” said Gunn.

“I'm delighted to say we've got some team members who have actually started and are actually in our distribution centres.

“We are working hard to recover the situation across our stores, and our supply chain and things are getting a little better every day.”

The announcement comes as Victoria has recorded 11,695 positive COVID-19 cases. Of those, 7,207 were self-reported RATs and 4,488 came from PCR tests.

998 people are currently in hospital, with 119 in ICU and 47 on ventilators.

The state has recorded 17 deaths today.

Updated at 12.52pm AEDT on 24 January 2022.

“Unlawful greed”: AFP launches investigations into RAT price gouging

“Unlawful greed”: AFP launches investigations into RAT price gouging

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has launched investigations into rapid antigen test (RAT) price gouging, warning individuals and businesses could face five years’ imprisonment or a $66,000 fine if they are caught selling kits for more than 20 per cent of original retail price.

Two investigations are underway in Queensland and New South Wales after the federal agency received referrals from the Australian Competition and Consumer Competition (ACCC).

Additional referrals are expected and will be coordinated under the AFP’s Taskforce LOTUS, which was established on 8 February 2021 in response to potential criminal threats during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

The legislation will not apply to retailers who purchase from a wholesaler.

“For example, if a tobacconist buys RATs from a chemist and then sells those RATs for more than 20 per cent of what they were purchased for, that tobacconist faces criminal charges under the law,” said the AFP.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Crime Command Nigel Ryan said there would be zero tolerance for those who were profiteering from RATs at the expense of the Australian public.

“The AFP will use its full powers to crack down on RAT price gouging. Not only is price gouging of RATs unethical but it is illegal, and the AFP will use its significant resources to ensure it protects the public from the unlawful greed of others,’’ Ryan said.

To date, the AFP has not seized or surrendered any RATs, personal protective equipment or other relevant medical supplies to the National Medical Stockpile.

“Commonwealth and state agencies are working together on this issue, and under Taskforce LOTUS, the AFP makes no apologies for upholding the law to help keep Australians safe.”

Updated at 11.22am AEDT on 21 January 2022.

WA dumps 5 February border reopening plan

WA dumps 5 February border reopening plan

Western Australia will no longer relax its hard border with the rest of the nation from 5 February, with the state’s Premier Mark McGowan determining it would be “irresponsible and reckless” to allow Omicron in.

Instead, new hard border settings will be implemented from 5 February that will permit interstate travellers as long as they are triple vaccinated and they complete two weeks of self-quarantine at a suitable premises, among other rules.

The changes were announced in a late-night press conference by McGowan, who said “the world changed in December”.

“Omicron arrived. Of most concern was how easily transmissible and infectious Omicron is. Unfortunately, even double dose vaccinated people aren’t strongly protected against Omicron,” he said.

“Omicron is a whole new ball game. It is a new state of emergency. We can’t just shut our eyes and hope that it’s not different.”

The Premier hopes the border reopening delay will give those in WA more time to go out and get a booster shot, to ensure the best possible protection against the Omicron variant. So far, 25.8 per cent of the state’s population aged 16 and over has received a booster shot.

“It’s expected that we’ll be reaching the peak of this current wave in coming weeks. At that point after the peak I hope we can have a better understanding of Omicron and what it means for Western Australia,” the Premier said.

“Allowing hundreds or thousands of Omicron-infected people to fly straight into Perth from February 5 with no testing, no quarantine and no public health measures would cause a flood of COVID across our state. It would cause a surge in hospitalisations and result in thousands of people not being able to work or go to school.

“We’re in a fortunate position to be able to adjust our settings to put us in the best position to handle the Omicron variant and to protect Western Australians and the West Australian way of life. We know the third dose of the vaccine gives us the best protection.”

Unlike the rest of the nation where daily new case numbers are consistently in their thousands and states are recording multiple deaths per day, Western Australia has relatively few infections of COVID-19.

In total, there are just 82 active cases of COVID-19 in the state, and just 10 new cases were reported in WA yesterday.

This compares to 278,324 active cases in New South Wales, 99,976 in Victoria, 89,638 in Queensland, 35,525 in South Australia, 4,447 in the ACT, 3,948 in the Northern Territory and 1,729 in Tasmania,

“If we can hold back this current Omicron outbreak, we will be one of the only places in the world that can achieve a high third dose rate before we reach widespread community transmission - something worth striving for,” McGowan said.

Under the new border settings effective 5 February, approved travellers are permitted to enter WA, or leave WA and return, with testing and quarantine requirements under the new expanded exemption criteria:

  • Returning Western Australians, with strong recent connections or direct legitimate family connections with WA;
  • Compassionate grounds including funeral, palliative care or terminally ill visitation;
  • Member of the family of an approved traveller;
  • People entering for urgent and essential medical treatment;
  • Reasons of national and State security;
  • Commonwealth and State officials, Members of Parliament, Diplomats;
  • Provision of specialist skills not available in WA, health services, emergency service workers;
  • People required to attend court matters, judicial officers and staff of court, tribunals and commissions; and
  • Special considerations and extraordinary circumstances determined by the State Emergency Coordinator or Chief Health Officer. 

Approved interstate travellers into WA will be permitted with the following requirements:

  • Traveller must have an approved G2G Pass, under new exemption criteria;
  • Be triple dose vaccinated if eligible (double dose vaccinated if not eligible for third);
  • Return a negative pre-departure Rapid Antigen Test (24 hours prior to departure);
  • Undertake 14 days of self-quarantine at a suitable premises, with the same requirements for household members at the self-quarantine premises; 
  • PCR testing within 48 hours of arrival and on day 12 of self-quarantine, and household members will also be required to do a PCR test on the traveller's day 12.
  • Subject to mandatory use of G2G Now and in-person checks by WA Police as required. 

Additional requirements will be put in place for domestic road travel including:

  • Approved domestic travellers to limit travel to 1,500 kilometres from road borders, to enable people to travel by road to suitable premises for quarantine in Perth from Eucla;
  • Entry at the Kununurra border only for transport, freight and logistics and border community residents;
  • Restricted travel into remote Aboriginal communities. 

International travel into WA will be permitted with the following requirements:

  • Meet the Commonwealth requirements to enter Australia under the arrivals cap;
  • Undertake 14 days of mandatory quarantine including, seven days in hotel quarantine and seven days of self-quarantine at a suitable premise, if eligible;
  • PCR testing on days one, six, nine and 12, and household members will also be required to do a PCR test on the traveller's day 12
  • Subject to mandatory use of G2G Now and in-person checks by WA Police as required;
  • International travel indirectly into WA via another State or Territory will be subject to the same entry and quarantine requirements as domestic travellers.  

Updated at 9.10am AEDT on 21 January 2022.

Peak bodies propose six-point plan to carry business through Omicron wave

Peak bodies propose six-point plan to carry business through Omicron wave

A coalition of Australia’s peak industry groups representing the retail, hospitality and tourism sectors says “there is almost no government support” for businesses struck by Omicron, and has called for action in six areas to prevent operators from collapsing.

As part of a six-point plan the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), the Restaurant & Catering Australia (R&CA) and the Tourism & Transport Forum (TTF) are calling on the government to underwrite the cost of rapid antigen tests, expand close contact exemptions and lure in skilled workers though visa rebates.

All three groups are also urging for rent relief, cash grants and simpler reporting requirements for businesses with COVID-positive employees.

Approximately 70 per cent of ARA members have staff in isolation, whilst a third have limited trading hours in some locations and one in five were forced to close down due to staff shortages.

“This year has seen business enter unchartered waters, with Omicron impacting business more than any other time in the pandemic with almost no government support,” ARA CEO Paul Zahra said.

“These challenges are going to be with us for some time and targeted support is desperately needed from government so small businesses can survive.”

"For many in the hospitality sector, the current situation with Omicron has left them worse off when compared to the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021,” added R&CA CEO Wes Lambert.

“Between staff having to isolate with COVID-19, mass cancellations from a fearful public and the ongoing staff shortage, who can blame them?”

Reduced domestic travel has also slammed the tourism sector, which is still reeling from missing five school holiday periods in a row due to restrictions, resulting in an estimated loss of $21 billion in related visitor spend.

“After losing around 600,000 people from our sector over the course of the pandemic with many never to return, the lack of skilled staff is now the number one issue for tourism and aviation businesses large and small,” said TTF CEO Margy Osmond.

The industry groups have called on the government to commit to six immediate areas of focus to support business during this time:

1) Access to Rapid Antigen Tests

"Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) are a critical resource as we adjust to living with Covid and they should be easily accessible and affordable for businesses to assist with the testing of their staff.

"We call on the Federal Government to underwrite the cost of RATs so businesses are not lumped with additional costs – on top of the trading impacts they’re currently suffering."

2) Expand close contact isolation exemptions

"Omicron is forcing tens of thousands of people into isolation every day and staff shortages across the economy are immense.

Whilst a range of industries have been included in the list of workers who are exempt from close contact isolation requirements, this needs to cascade out to workers in retail, hospitality and tourism, allowing these businesses to continue serving customers while keeping everyone safe."

3) Access to skilled staff

"We welcome the Federal Government’s recent announcements to lure more international students and working holiday makers into the country through visa rebates. These workers will fill roles generally at the lower and medium skilled positions level. We now need to prioritise these workers to fill the remaining labour shortages in our industries which are predominantly skilled.

"At all times we support the priority of providing jobs to Australians and training Australians where they exist. However, the retail, hospitality and tourism industries were already dealing with skills shortages before the Omicron wave. Our sectors require prioritisation with more specialised workers on the skilled migrant workers list."

4) Rent relief

"Rent is a major pain point for business, and leasing codes of conduct have now expired in most jurisdictions leaving small businesses vulnerable to significant cashflow challenges in the first quarter of this year.

"We thank the NSW and Victorian governments for extending rent negotiation rights for small business until mid-March. However, rent relief is only available to businesses with turnover of up to $5 million (in NSW) and $10 million (in Victoria). We’re calling for the threshold to be lifted to $50 million – as it was previously – and for similar supports to be reinstated or introduced across the other states and territories."

5) Targeted cash grants

"Targeted cash grants, including the JobSaver program, were a lifesaver for businesses and should be reinstated. It’s clear that the impacts of Omicron are widespread and ongoing and that targeted and temporary cash grants are needed to keep small businesses most affected alive until they come out the other side of this current crisis."

6) Reduce red tape

"The last thing businesses need to be focused on right now is regulation and red tape.

"Feedback is that employer reporting requirements for positive cases are onerous, overwhelming teams and causing resources to be diverted to administration which is a roadblock to other safety and support issues.

"We’re pleased to see a reduction in some of the duplicate reporting requirements within Victoria. We call on the other states and territories to do the same."

Updated at 3.39pm AEDT on 20 January 2022.

TWU: Transport workers pressured to work while sick with COVID

TWU: Transport workers pressured to work while sick with COVID

A new survey conducted by the Transport Workers Union (TWU) has revealed transport workers are being asked to work while COVID-positive or symptomatic, leading the union to call upon supply chain clients and governments to take a stand.

The survey, completed by approximately 2,500 workers in freight, logistics, distribution centres, passenger transport, waste, food delivery and aviation, saw respondents reply with damning allegations about workplace health and safety conditions.

According to the TWU, one respondent said "I tested positive again after six days of isolation and was told I don’t need to do a test after seven days and can return to work! I refused as I still had symptoms.”

Another said they were "pressured to work even though I could barely drive the bus. I refused to work the next day because I tested positive.”

A third reported being "harassed by phone calls and messages from management telling me to go back ASAP, but I was still unwell.”

The survey also revealed 90 per cent of respondents did not want to work alongside close contacts, and 96 per cent want free rapid antigen tests.

As such, the TWU is writing to wealthy supply chain clients like Apple, Aldi and Amazon, and state governments who oversee bus and waste contracts, calling on them to take a stand against any positive worker being asked to return to work and ensure risk assessments and COVID-safe plans are urgently put in place.

The Union also alleged other concerning trends, including workers losing pay or being criticised for fulfilling mandatory isolation requirements, management not informing workers they’d worked in close quarters with COVID-positive colleagues, and casual workers feeling pressured to work while possibly infectious because they have no sick leave.

RELATED: ACTU claims free test request "reasonable", but employer body deems strike threats inappropriate

Despite their increased risk of virus exposure, the survey found three quarters had not yet received their booster vaccination. Almost 30 per cent of respondents were not yet eligible for the booster.

TWU national assistant secretary Nick McIntosh said the relaxing of isolation rules has sent a dangerous signal to put workplace health and safety at the bottom of the pile.

"Transport workers are reporting being called to return to work while still COVID-positive or symptomatic to fulfil transport contracts with wealthy supply chain clients. This is a blatant prioritisation of profits over safety,” McIntosh said.

“Transport workers who've kept us going throughout the pandemic say they're being told not to bother testing when most likely carrying the virus, and are forced to work in unclean, unsafe environments without even being informed when colleagues test positive.

“These alarming safety violations will only grow in number and severity if the economic powers overseeing transport contracts do not put a stop to this appalling behaviour in their supply chains.”

Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine gets drug regulator's green light

Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine gets drug regulator's green light

A COVID-19 vaccine made by pharmaceutical company Novavax has been granted provisional approval today by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), with the first shipment of the jabs expected to arrive in the coming month.

The provisional approval will allow Australians aged 18 years and older to receive two doses of the vaccine administered three weeks apart as soon as the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) grants its approval too.

Novavax’s NUVAXOVID is the first protein-based COVID-19 vaccine to receive regulatory approval in Australia.

Protein vaccines use a non-infectious component found on the surface of the coronavirus and are manufactured in cells in a laboratory. After vaccination, immune cells recognise the vaccine protein as foreign and launch an immune response against it.

This approach differs from the vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna which are both messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, and AstraZeneca’s jab which is a vector vaccine.

Unlike Pfizer and Moderna’s jabs, NUVAXOVID is only approved for primary vaccination only as studies for the use of Novavax’s jab as a booster are ongoing.

The Novavax vaccine has received conditional marketing authorisation by the European Medicines Agency, and the World Health Organisation has issued an emergency use listing for the vaccine.

“Provisional approval of this vaccine in Australia is subject to certain strict conditions, such as the requirement for Biocelect Pty Ltd (on behalf of Novavax Inc) to continue providing information to the TGA on longer-term efficacy and safety from ongoing clinical trials and post-market assessment,” the TGA said.

“Australians can be confident that the TGA's review process of NUVAXOVID was rigorous. The decision to provisionally approve the vaccine was also informed by expert advice from the AdvisoryCommittee on Vaccines (ACV), an independent committee with expertise in scientific, medical and clinical fields including consumer representation.”

Novavax and the Australian government announced an advance purchase agreement for 51 million doses NUVAXOVID in January 2021. The first shipment to Australia of the Novavax vaccine is expected in the coming month.

“Obviously we have a first dose national vaccination rate of 95.2 per cent, and we know that some people have waited for Novavax. Although we’ve encouraged everybody to proceed, we recognise that that’s a fact,” Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

“So hopefully this will encourage those in that less than last 5 per cent to come forward. We want to have as many people come forward to be vaccinated.”

Updated at 10.45am AEDT on 20 January 2022.

Two oral COVID-19 treatments get provisional approval from TGA

Two oral COVID-19 treatments get provisional approval from TGA

Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has today granted provisional approval to two oral COVID-19 treatments for use in adults at increased risk of progression to hospitalisation or death.

Both PAXLOVID (manufactured by Pfizer Australia) and LAGEVRIO (manufactured by the Australian subsidiary of Merck) are to be administered as soon as possible after diagnosis of COVID-19 and within five days of the start of symptoms.

The TGA notes the pills, intended for those who do not require the initiation of oxygen, are not a substitute for vaccination against COVID-19.

LAGEVRIO is available as capsules, while PAXLOVID comprise separate tablets of nirmatrelvir and ritonavir - a drug usually used to treat HIV/AIDS. In both cases, the medicines are taken twice a day for 5 days.

“Molnupiravir (LAGEVRIO) works by inhibiting replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The use of LAGEVRIO is not recommended in pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is recommended that sexually active women of childbearing potential use contraception and men also use contraception during and three months after treatment with LAGEVRIO,” the TGA says.

“Regarding PAXLOVID, the nirmatrelvir component blocks the activity of a protease enzyme that the coronavirus needs in order to replicate. Nirmatrelvir is administered in combination with low-dose ritonavir to maintain plasma levels of nirmatrelvir for the duration of the treatment.”

Both treatments have received conditional marketing authorisation from the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration, and PAXLOVID was authorised by Health Canada earlier this week.

According to a Phase 2/3 study of Pfizer's pill, the treatment was found to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death by 89 [er cent compared to placebo in non-hospitalised high-risk adults with COVID-19.

"These data suggest that our oral antiviral candidate, if approved or authorised by regulatory authorities, has the potential to save patients’ lives, reduce the severity of COVID-19 infections, and eliminate up to nine out of ten hospitalisations," Pfizer chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said.

"Given the continued global impact of COVID-19, we have remained laser-focused on the science and fulfilling our responsibility to help healthcare systems and institutions around the world while ensuring equitable and broad access to people everywhere.”

The TGA’s provisional approval means both treatments are subject to certain strict conditions, such as the requirement for the sponsors to continue providing information to the TGA on longer-term efficacy and safety from ongoing clinical trials and post-market assessment.

“Australians can be confident that the TGA's review process of both medicines was rigorous,” the TGA says.

“The decision to provisionally approve the medicine was informed by expert advice from the Advisory Committee on Medicines (ACM), an independent committee with expertise in scientific, medical and clinical fields including consumer representation.”

So far, the Australian Government has secured access to 500,000 treatment courses of PAXLOVID and 300,000 courses of LAGEVRIO for supply during 2022, with the first deliveries of both medicines anticipated in coming weeks.

Updated at 9.56am AEDT on 20 January 2022.

Global Work & Travel CEO says visa rebate deadline "not enough time"

Global Work & Travel CEO says visa rebate deadline "not enough time"

A leading international online working holiday company has welcomed the Federal Government's announcement of visa rebates for international students and backpackers, although its CEO and co-founder believes an extension throughout 2022 is needed to truly entice travellers to overhaul their lives and come to Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced this morning visa rebates would be given to backpackers for 12 weeks, and to international students for eight weeks, in a bid to fill worker shortages caused by COVID-induced absenteeism.

Gold Coast-based Global Work & Travel, which also has global offices in London and Vancouver, is reporting demand for its WHM (working holiday maker) trips to Australia has more than doubled from December to January.

The company's co-founder and CEO Jürgen Himmelmann says the decision to offer visa rebates needs to be extended to help businesses and communities affected by staff shortages and reduce disruption to the supply chain.

"Two to three months of visa rebates is a good start but it is simply not enough time for travellers to decide to pack up their lives and make a life changing move to Australia," Himmelmann says.

"It needs to be extended until the end of the year at least to encourage travellers and students to come here and make it a realistic move."

He says the company has seen a real spike in enquiries and sales for its working holiday maker packages, with the majority of its network of customers wanting to get to work straight away.

"These are the people that can have an immediate and positive impact on staffing shortages across multiple industries," he explains.

"We have a backlog of working holiday makers who’ve been really keen to get into Australia and haven’t been able to enter the country. If the visa rebates are held in place for a longer period, this will help further entice travellers and students to come here.

"Their contribution to the economy is very real and we need to do all we can to ensure the processes to get them into the country are attractive, as Australia is competing with other countries to attract them."

Meanwhile, peak industry body the Accommodation Association has also welcomed the Federal Government's initiative but warns much more support is needed to address sector-wide labour force losses of 35 per cent.

"Every level of Australia’s Accommodation sector has been heavily hit by workforce losses of 35 per cent with the additional complication of staff having to isolate due to being close contacts," says the association's CEO Richard Munro.

"Every positive step towards addressing that is welcome but this is a massive headache that is not going away any time soon.

"We are very grateful for today’s announcement but ongoing support from Government at all levels is needed until we get back to a more normal existence and we have a proper resumption of international tourism."

He notes the Accommodation Association has been engaging with the Federal government on many fronts for both short and long term solutions, and looks forward to an acceleration of these kinds of announcements given the demand.

"The sector is constantly adapting and finding ways to become more flexible to suit the rapidly changing environment, the association itself has launched a number of programs to assist our members and the wider tourism industry with the skills shortage and today’s announcement will support these initiatives," Munro says.

"From our ground-breaking Gappa program which expands the traditional gap-year via a 10-month placement of paid work experience through to multiple short and long term solutions to match those looking for work with accommodation providers looking for team members, the association and our members have embraced new ways of attracting people into hospitality.

"But, even where demand for rooms is high, our hotels, motels and accommodation providers simply can’t find the people to fill the gaps right across the workforce from management to cleaning staff through to floor and administration staff. "

He adds members continue to see cancellations due to consumer fears of being stranded again by snap border closures and the inability to practically access Rapid Antigen Tests.

"Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction and we hope some of the eligible international students and backpackers come our way," he says.

"This is a brilliant sector to work in at every level. Even short-term, you learn transferable skills and, as a career path, it can take you anywhere and everywhere."

Later this afternoon, Business Council executive director Jess Wilson said gave her perspective, claiming that attracting student and working holiday maker visa holders back into the country and letting those already here work more hours were critical steps to keeping shelves stocked and supply chains functioning.

"We welcome the government’s sensible changes to boost the workforce, keep businesses functioning and ensure Australians can access the products and services they need," she said.

"Not only do critical labour shortages risk holding back our recovery but they put serious strain on supply chains across the economy and force businesses to close their doors."

She said businesses were experiencing workforce shortages of up to 40 per cent in some sectors.

"Temporary changes to give international students the chance to work more hours in all sectors of the economy are common sense. Many international students are already here and contributing – now they have a chance to do even more," she said.

"Working holiday makers are also crucial in sectors like agriculture, so making Australia an even more attractive destination with lower costs and faster approval times is a no brainer.

"These changes combined with the sensible adjustments to isolation and close contact rules will help address critical workforce shortages in the short term."