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Essential business confusion shows why we need standard COVID restrictions

COSBOA has long been calling on the National Cabinet to introduce a standardised, national approach to COVID-19 restrictions, including a standard list of essential businesses.

We note NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s comments about essential businesses during the press conference earlier today: ‘Unless you’re providing essential food and services – that is take away food and services or grocery services of that nature, we don’t expect those businesses to remain open in the next week.’

According to COSBOA members, Premier Berejiklian’s comments have already caused confusion for small businesses and their industry associations.

COSBOA Interim CEO Alexi Boyd said “These kinds of comments in the media create unnecessary stress and anxiety for the small business community. If we take the Premier literally, only businesses that provide food are essential. What about pharmacies? What about allied health? Petrol stations? Newsagencies? Construction sites? Equipment hire? This needs to be thought through and communicated in advance of a COVID outbreak.”

COSBOA would like to see a standard, nationally consistent system and terminology for COVID-19 restrictions developed in consultation with business representatives. An option would be to have tiers of COVID-19 alerts, numbered or colour coded, and a list of restrictions (including which types of businesses can remain open) for each alert level. This information could be published on government websites in advance of the next outbreak. Industry associations could use it to provide advice and education to their members.


Ms Boyd continued “COVID-19 outbreaks and restrictions are risks that businesses will have to live with for the foreseeable future. Small business owners need to be able to plan how they will manage that risk, and to do that they need to know when they need to close and what support will be available. Being able to say ‘OK, I need to reduce my capacity to x people per square metre at level 2 but close my premise at level 3’ would be a big help. Uncertainty and fear kill business.”

Ms Boyd added “The confusion over essential businesses was one of the biggest issues raised by COSBOA members when we surveyed them earlier this year for our Small Business Perspective report. We heard stories of tired truck drivers dragged away from tables because roadside rest areas were interpreted as non-essential; myotherapists being able to practice in every state except for Victoria; staff refusing to go to work in hair salons despite hairdressing being classified as essential; and equipment hire not being on the list of essential businesses despite needing to hire equipment to COVID testing centres.

“This is why one of our report’s recommendations was ‘nationally agreed arrangements [on the enforced closure of non-essential businesses] based on evidence that accommodate consultation and provide consistency (and certainty of timing).’”

Ms Boyd concluded “NSW and its contact tracing team have done a good job in the past keeping people safe from the virus while minimising damage to the economy. We trust that they will be able to get the current outbreak under control and allow businesses in the four affected LGAs to reopen in a reasonable time frame.”


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