Ballarat business owners and employers are looking for guidance as new lockdown restrictions on essential worker permits come in to effect from tonight.
The lockdown restrictions now in place for regional Victoria are the strictest that regional areas have had to comply with since the pandemic began 18 months ago.
But as workers and employers looked for information across the weekend on who is considered essential and how to apply for permits there was little to no information available online targeted toward regional businesses.
The situation was made doubly hard for those with children in childcare, with centres only open for children of authorised workers if they cannot work from home or if no supervision is available at home, or for vulnerable children.
It is the first time regional Victoria has had authorised worker permits and restricted access to childcare, despite metropolitan Melbourne operating with these measures during the second half of last year. The permits come in to effect from 11.59pm Monday.
The two hour notice of regional Victoria's seventh lockdown, which began at 1pm on Saturday, added to the pain of local businesses many of whom were fully stocked for weekend trade and forced to close their doors.
Commerce Ballarat's Hayley Coates said many businesses previously allowed to open under lockdown restrictions in regional Victoria had to close with little opportunity to prepare.
"Before it was 'if you can work from home you should work from home' but now it's only authorised workers allowed," she said. "There were lots of businesses who were able to continue operating with one or two people in the office but now the penalties are massive and they haven't been given the opportunity to try to put processes in place to deal with this.
"It's extremely difficult for regional businesses to know what they should be doing and we can't advise business because we can't find out the information and things have changed since the last time we were in lockdown."
Ms Coates hoped authorities would show some leniency on regional businesses as they sorted their way through the new restrictions.
"It can be difficult for business, particularly small businesses, to get the right information when legislation changes. We had two hours notice on the weekend about very significant restrictions and changes to operations."
Ms Coates welcomed extra funding for business support packages, but said many businesses were running on empty and the stricter closures would hurt.
Minister for Industry Support and Recovery Martin Pakula announced a new round of support for regional businesses following the extension of the lockdown across the whole state.
The package comprises a $100.9 million allocation to the Business Costs Assistance Program, $34.5 million for regional premises that have previously received Licensed Hospitality Venue Fundgrantsand$11.2 million for the Alpine Resorts Winter Support Program.
These programs will support 20,000 business throughout regional Victoria, providing cash grants of up to $5600 through the BCAP for the two-week lockdown.
"We used up all of our reserves last year and people are struggling, doing it really tough. Business owners don't just have their own welfare in mind, but their employees, and it's just another layer on top for businesses owners many of whom don't have the resources to keep going," Ms Coates said.
Committee for Ballarat chair Michael Poulton said it was time for the federal government to consider reintroducing Job Keeper.
"It was such a remarkable thing last year to put money in to the system. People's lives are being affected and I think it's absolutely time for the federal government to reassess the issue, to have a target Job Keeper program to ensure money goes in to business," he said.
Despite the extra layer of bureaucracy, Mr Poulton said the introduction of authorised worker permits would help protect regional areas.
"The permit system is not just for Ballarat workers but to keep track of people coming from Melbourne for things like teaching in the hospital system, or students coming for lab-type work. That has been a concern in the past, in terms of people coming from Melbourne working in Ballarat for a particular purpose.
"While none of us want to see an extra layer of bureaucracy in anything we do, we do need to have some protection ... and the permits make people really think do they need to be out or not."
Mr Poulton and Ms Coates also urged all Ballarat residents who have not yet rolled up their sleeves, to get their vaccination.
"It's the only thing we can do individually to try and get us out of this," Ms Coates said.
Victoria's health minister Martin Foley yesterday announced all Victorian public servants - including teachers, emergency services, employees of water authorities, land management and all public entities - will be offered a half day's paid time off to get their COVID-19 vaccination from this week.
The new measure is part of the state's drive to administer a million doses of the vaccine in the month from August 16.
Reported yesterday: 65 new local cases and 1 new case acquired overseas (currently in HQ).— VicGovDH (@VicGovDH) August 21, 2021
- 26,149 vaccine doses were administered
- 44,147 test results were received
More later: https://t.co/lIUrl1hf3W#COVID19Vic#COVID19VicData [1/2] pic.twitter.com/Ss16hh465Q
"We have been working with a number of other large private sector employers who have put in place similar arrangements, and we think it is the responsibility of us as a significant employer in the state to put in place all the support we can to encourage our employees to get on and make sure they are all vaccinated as soon as possible," Mr Foley said.
A new blitz for residential aged care and disability workers will also run for the next week, with Mr Foley saying 80 per cent of workers in the sector have received at least one vaccination.
Residential aged care and disability workers will be able to walk up to one of the more than 50 state run vaccination centres and receive the vaccine of their choice, regardless of their age.
"We did a blitz a while ago, but we have reintroduced this measure for residential aged care staff because all private and residential aged care workers in Australia are required to receive their first vaccination by September 17 as a condition of their employment," Mr Foley said.
IN OTHER NEWS
Victoria recorded 65 new coronavirus cases to midnight on Saturday, 55 are linked to current outbreaks and 10 are under investigation.
There are at least 21 cases linked to the Shepparton outbreak, which prompted the reintroduction of harsh lockdown in regional Victoria, and a person believed to be linked to the Shepparton outbreak presented at Mansfield Hospital emergency department overnight Saturday.
Of the 440 active cases across Victoria, 103 are aged under 9 and 259 are aged under 30, highlighting the impact of the delta variant on younger patients than seen in previous outbreaks.
Our team of local journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the Ballarat community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: