Commerce Ballarat chief Jodie Gillett admits she is frightened at the growing desperation of local business owners and fears the devastating impact of the state's sixth COVID lockdown.
"The sense of loss, the sense of exhaustion in the last couple of lockdowns has been immense. We have been talking about crisis fatigue - people are so exhausted it's becoming difficult to continue to function in this environment."
The state's hopes of avoiding a sixth lockdown were dashed late yesterday less than 48 hours after recording a "doughnut day" of zero cases when eight positive cases of the Delta variant were reported including three mystery cases.
"We only get one chance to act fast, only one chance to make difficult decisions that are the right decision," Premier Daniel Andrews said.
"My fear is if we were to wait a few days ... there is every chance that instead of being locked down for a week, this gets away from us and we are potentially locked down until we all get vaccinated. That's months away."
The five reasons to leave home remain the same as previous lockdowns, and in force until next Thursday.
While Ballarat has bounced back quickly from its first four lockdowns, Ms Gillett said the recovery since the end of lockdown five had been much slower.
"Normally we bounce back really quickly out of lockdown with people getting out and about, booking and buying but that's not happening this time," she said.
"I think it's a mix of the financial side of things and the mental toll. There's a sense of 'what's the point' - if you make a booking it's liable to get cancelled or if you make plans it's not going to work out and that's really overwhelming.
"We are starting to see the community not able to support our businesses as they have in the past and our community has been amazing at doing that, but it's getting more and more difficult."
Ms Gillett said the financial and mental health toll of repeated lockdowns on business owners and employees was massive.
"Everyone has just tapped out their resources after the last 18 months," she said. "I don't think the general public sometimes quite see that the majority of business owners love and care for their employees very much. When they can't give hours because they're closed or there's no trade they feel guilt because their employees can't pay the rent or put food on the table."
Ms Gillett said inquiries for Commerce Ballarat's mental health support and counselling had soared.
"We did a workshop just (Thursday) morning to try and build capacity in people before they get to the stage where they are desperate, but we are certainly seeing desperation and an increase in inquiries after the last lockdown."
Ballarat mayor Cr Daniel Moloney urged Ballarat residents to be compassionate and kind to those doing it tough.
"I think lockdown number six is going to be particularly hard for a lot of people because it's effectively it's three lockdowns in quite close succession," he said.
With so few in the community with one vaccination let alone two, I have no choice but to accept advice and to make this important decision to keep Victorians safe. The alternative is we let this run that gets away from us, and our hospitals will be absolutely overwhelmed.Daniel Andrews
"There's a lot of fatigue, a lot of disappointment and frustration and all of those things more are very appropriate and understandable but equally we need to quickly move in to being compassionate and kind to those around us and doing whatever we can to get businesses through what must be a really tough time."
Cr Moloney said council knew lockdown five had drained the remaining financial resources of many businesses and this week's lockdown would be crippling if there is not further quick government support.
Committee for Ballarat chief Michael Poulton said we all knew the impact of "going hard early" to contain the virus but acknowledged each lockdown was difficult. He urged everyone eligible to book their vaccination to help avoid further lockdowns.
"The story of vaccination is going to be critical so I encourage Ballarat residents at all levels those eligible to book an appointment ... that is the way out of this."
"Here we go again," was City Oval Hotel owner Robert Gayton's response to the announcement of the state's sixth COVID lockdown.
It was a perhaps unsurprising reaction given the mental and financial toll that six lockdowns in the past 18 months has taken on him and wife Julie.
"What I've tried to do myself is not get uptight. I was climbing the walls and in a bad way in the first two or three (lockdowns)," he said.
"I don't know how people are getting back up. I think we're in a better spot than a few people. Regional areas are a bit more fortunate, but it's still tough."
Mrs Gayton watched the deterioration in her husband's mental health particularly during the uncertainty of the first lockdown.
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"The finances were just terrible ... and he was just so depressed," Mrs Gayton said.
"We had to ban Rob from the pub for two weeks."
The financial toll on the hotel over the past 18 months has been substantial. During the two weekends of the state's fifth lockdown, a sit-down 30th birthday party for 40 people had to be cancelled and a 60-person wedding reception.
"That's a lot of money," Mrs Gayton said. "It's also devastating to have to ring up the customers."
Mrs Gayton has willingly carried a heavy burden in an attempt to help her partner in work and in life.
"Since then, in every lockdown, as his wife, it's been really hard for me to just emotionally try to pick him up," she said.
"He used to get a bit grumpy about some things, but now, he just goes from being super happy to rock bottom"
"What Rob found- he's always at the bar, he's always been a storyteller- we missed our regulars. We've missed all our people and he missed being able to tell jokes, tell stories, serve beers, and just to have the place just in darkness all the time, it was really, really depressing."
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Mrs Gayton said there were some "great families" who remained loyal to the hotel during lockdowns.
"They wouldn't ordinarily order takeaway food, but they know us so well and they felt for our situation. They knew how we were feeling financially. They love us.
"We're just so sick and tired of having to revert the place back to takeaway. It's so emotionally draining to open up, close, open up, close
But there came a point during the repeated lockdowns that Mrs Gayton had to tell her children they couldn't afford to buy them a takeaway meal, or new clothes.
"It's been an emotional rollercoaster"
For free COVID mental health support in business, contact Partners in Well-being 1300 375 330. More: commerceballarat.com.au.
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