Locals are still counting the cost of millions of dollars in lost income following the snap lockdown which ended on Wednesday night.
One business reported a loss of up to $100,000 due to the five-day closure, which stifled economic activity on a previously busy Valentine's Day weekend.
Estimates from the Ai Group, a peak body representing employers, suggest that household spending in Ballarat dipped by around $37.6 million* when the restrictions were in place.
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Several employers in the hospitality industry say they are holding out for direct financial aid as a result of the losses incurred. Details of a Victorian government business support package are expected next week.
The impact has spurred business leaders to draft a letter to Premier Daniel Andrews, advocating a more nuanced approach for any potential future lockdowns - and more clarity on the restrictions both when announced and lifted.
All non-essential activity in the city was stopped in the strictest lockdown yet experienced by regional Victorians. It was introduced as a response to the highly infectious so-called "UK strain" of COVID-19, which has caused a significant cluster at the Holiday Inn quarantine hotel by Melbourne Airport.
There were no active cases in regional Victoria when the lockdown was announced and no further cases have been discovered outside of Melbourne since.
LETTER TO THE PREMIER
The CEO of Commerce Ballarat Jodie Gillett, along with Committee for Ballarat CEO Michael Poulton and Ballarat Regional Tourism chair Iain Gunn have confirmed they are working on a letter to Mr Andrews.
We now urge the Government to reflect on the implementation of the 'Circuit Breaker' and prepare a comprehensive plan for any further 'shut-downs' that may be necessary. Such a plan should include a consideration that one size does not fit all
They are asking other business advocacy groups around the state to join them and deliver a similar message to the premier. A draft of the letter acknowledges the measures were put in place to prevent a possible third wave of Covid-19 infections.
"We now urge the Government to reflect on the implementation of the 'Circuit Breaker' and prepare a comprehensive plan for any further 'shut-downs' that may be necessary. Such a plan should include a consideration that one size does not fit all."
"Appropriate and detailed information was not available at the time of implementing the restrictions nor when they were eased, placing further unnecessary stress on business and leading to the late cancellation or postponement of events."
The Ballarat Cycle Classic was one event that had to be postponed from this weekend until March, while there was uncertainty over the Head of the Lake rowing regatta, which will now be held on Sunday with a ban on crowds attending.
Ballarat has not had an active case of COVID-19 since October 23 last year. Even when there were numerous active cases in the city, the restrictions were less severe than those imposed on February 12.
The five-day lockdown was announced after an outbreak of cases of the UK variant at the Holiday Inn, with the infection thought to have been spread by the use of a nebuliser.
A survey carried out this week by Ballarat Regional Tourism, whose members have often experienced the financial brunt both of this lockdown and previous restrictions, also laid bare the impact of the five-day closure.
The government has been too harsh on regional Victoria. Our industry has a proven ability to manage itself responsibly. I am very angry about the way this has been handledSimon Coghlan
Anonymised feedback was shared with The Courier. One respondent said any further shutdown would "undo all the gains we've made in the past three months," while another acknowledged they were thinking of quitting.
"It's tough personally so selling or closing is a worthwhile consideration."
One employer highlighted the predicament of their casual employees, saying "our staff... had no time to prepare for no work/pay for five days. As you know [hospitality] employees seem to live from pay check to pay check."
A further contributor said 250 staff shifts at their business had to be cancelled, with many of the workers not entitled to the government's JobKeeper supplement.
'UNFAIR' ON REGIONAL VICTORIA
Andrew Hoffmann, the owner of Quest Ballarat, said his business lost $20,000 worth of bookings shortly after the shutdown was announced on Friday. He estimated a further $30,000 to $40,000 in forward bookings lost since then.
"These figures are pretty modest compared to some," he said. "You don't get future bookings. People are just very nervous about the whole thing and don't want to plan too far ahead. It's very, very shaky. Nobody knows what's going to happen."
He said he was expecting a more nuanced "traffic light system" for any lockdown and the sweeping measures that were put in place took him by surprise. "All regional Victoria has been affected. It's ridiculous," he said. "Everyone is on tenterhooks. We can't be walking on eggshells all the time."
Simon Coghlan of the Provincial Hotel expressed similar views. He also put the losses from his business in the tens of thousands of dollars.
"I understand why they acted quickly," he said. "The health implications of a highly contagious strain, they had to jump on that. But the government has been too harsh on regional Victoria. Our industry has a proven ability to manage itself responsibly. I am very angry about the way this has been handled."
*Editor's note: The Ai Group estimated a total of $2.3 billion across the state in lost or deferred household spending as a result of the lockdown. The figure for Ballarat was reached using the percentage of the city's population compared to the state as a whole.
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