Many Ballarat small business owners and staff are at the point of utter despair as unexpected COVID restrictions again loom large.
Anger towards the state government is at fever pitch as the ability to operate on a reduced capacity if staff are not fully vaccinated will cease on Friday evening.
The mental wellbeing of many employers and employees is at risk.
Small businesses in strife
The psychological ramifications of changing goal posts have been felt by Annmarie Sloane of the Gatehouse Ballarat. Many people known by Ms Sloane are at their lowest ebb.
"It's physically and emotionally taxing," she said.
"Staff have had mental health issues with this incessant backwards-and-forwards. I have had staff, family, and patrons not just talk about their mental health, but I have never heard the word 'suicide' thrown around so much as this past week."
Ms Sloane herself is struggling.
"These processes have sent my mental health to another level," she said.
The nature of last week did not help Ms Sloane's mindset.
"We have been following protocols to the letter and, to have 48 hours to make sure staff were double-vaxxed, was ridiculous," she said.
"We have staff members booked in for AstraZeneca who cannot have a shorter waiting time for their jabs."
Ms Sloane is praying for some flexibility given the original roadmap required employees to have their second vaccinations by November 26.
"We've got a big event, the Dia de los Muertos celebrations (Day of the Dead), that's planned for this weekend that might not go ahead now," Ms Sloane said.
"I am going ahead hoping we can still do this event, but I am not optimistic."
Another business in a state of crisis in Formation Hairstylists.
Owner Bec Reeves has given her all to the business for four-and-a-half years.
When made aware of the changes for this weekend, Ms Reeves was distraught.
"It put such a heavy weight on my heart," Ms Reeves said.
"Again, I'm going to have to go through the process of telling my staff that they can't come to work. Now, they can't come to work and provide for their families."
The enduring plight of Ms Reeves has only been exacerbated lately.
"It's been turmoil, a rollercoaster," she said of the health crisis.
"It's been a hugely draining 18 months. Coming in and out of lockdowns, not knowing when we can work, what the rules are going to be, and just trying to put all those processes in place, it's been really difficult."
The last seven days have been rough for the businesswoman. When the government made its initial announcement last week, bringing the second vaccination date forward, Ms Reeves was hit hard.
"It sent shockwaves through our world," she said.
"My staff had just started getting their vaccinations."
IN OTHER NEWS
When the government backtracked, allowing businesses with staff not fully-vaccinated to stay open with a reduced capacity, Ms Reeves was overjoyed.
"We were so relieved because we have been running at a lower capacity anyway," she said.
"Finding out we could still operate was like Christmas."
Progressing to this week, another blow has been felt.
"There is no possible way they can have their second vaccinations by this Friday," Ms Reeves said.
"It's a massive kick in the guts to us."
Sam Fraser of Drive Cafe is similarly fed up with the government's lack of thought.
This week's revelation beggars belief as far as Ms Fraser is concerned.
"There is no consideration at all for owners of businesses, but also for the staff who are trying to keep their jobs (and) pay rent," Ms Fraser said.
"We have followed the government to the letter, but we are so over it."
Speaking about the developments of last week, Ms Fraser still struggles to hide resentment.
"We just couldn't believe it," Ms Fraser said.
"How do you advise businesses, with two days' notice, that unless all your staff are fully vaccinated, you need to close?"
The impact on Drive staff was immense.
"Some of our staff were really upset," Ms Fraser said.
"We were telling them that they couldn't work. Then (the government) does the backflip and goes back to the original roadmap. It was unnecessary stress."
Industry leaders respond
Commerce Ballarat CEO Jodie Gillett, exasperated, wants greater empathy from those imposing the regulations.
"No one's arguing about (benefits of increased capacity), but what about the ones that can't open on Saturday because they've removed that option (of a decreased capacity)?" Ms Gillett asked.
"They brought the date back four weeks and then gave them one week to fix the situation."
Ms Gillett remains gobsmacked by the approach of the government.
"It just breaks your heart," Ms Gillett said.
"It makes me so angry that someone sitting in an office in Melbourne, at the stroke of a pen, is causing this much grief."
Ms Gillett continues to be dismayed by poor communication from authorities.
"(Many businesses) aren't realising the (reduced capacity option) has been removed," Ms Gillett said.
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra also remains worried.
"COVID-19 has wrecked havoc on businesses with the constant yo-yoing in and out of lockdown, coupled with new frameworks and requirements causing anxiety and stress," Mr Guerra said.
"The financial burden has added to the emotional toll."
Addressing psychological issues must be tackled, according to Mr Guerra.
"It is vital that we, as a society, address the long-term consequences of the pandemic," he said.
"The Victorian Chamber is in discussions with the federal and state governments to ensure every impacted individual has access to support."
VCCI has valuable services on offer.
"The workplace mental health essentials program offers free mental health training and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses," Mr Guerra said.
Ms Gillett is encouraging those struggling to contact Commerce Ballarat which is working with the EACH partners in wellbeing - small business wellbeing program.
The free service, available to small business owners, staff, and families, includes mental health support, rapid responses from a financial counsellor, and wellbeing education sessions and workshops.
Neither the Department of Health and Human Services nor the office of the Minister for Small Business responded to requests.
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