Business groups have called on state governments to continue dismantling Covid restrictions even as the number of cases skyrockets amid staff shortages caused by the highly contagious variant of Omicron.
The groups have renewed their demands for increased use of rapid antigenic testing to allow staff who come in contact with coronavirus cases to quickly return to work if they are free from the virus instead of having to wait at least a day. the results of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
The number of Covid exploded on Wednesday, with the number of new cases in the country’s most infected state, New South Wales, nearly doubling overnight, from 6,062 to 11,201. The numbers in Victoria , which has the second highest number of cases, also jumped from 2,738 to 3,767.
However, business groups have said the economic devastation caused by the new variant was mainly due to government responses rather than the direct effect of the disease.
Innes Willox, chief executive of the AI Group employers’ association, said Australian businesses “are now suffering from state-induced chaos.”
“The greatest danger to improving trading conditions is not Omicron, but the response to it, especially by states that continue to act in a confused and egocentric manner by imposing unreasonably onerous and constantly onerous terms. evolution to businesses, their employees and their customers, ”he said.
“For our recovery to maintain its momentum, business needs certainty and continuity from states that can properly balance risks and not unnecessarily promote fear.”
He said state and federal governments must “reach and stick to agreements on open borders, workable testing requirements, increased use of rapid tests, isolation and distancing rules. “.
“They have had almost two years to resolve this problem and so far they have failed miserably to work together,” he said.
Andrew McKellar, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the Omicron outbreak had triggered “some degree of disruption”, in part caused by “the over-caution and overreaction” seen in some states. He stressed “Queensland’s very strict PCR testing requirements and the strain this puts on resources”.
“We still see companies that they are confident [and] they expect that in the coming months we could see a very strong period of economic activity, ”McKellar said.
“The main thing will be to avoid the imposition of very severe restrictions and blockages, and I think the signals from all jurisdictions have been that they understand that this must be an absolute last resort,” he said. declared. “There is no appetite to return to this space.”
McKellar said business groups have been calling since September for the provision of rapid antigen testing “as an important part of the arsenal” against Covid-19, after observing developments abroad.
This should be a problem for Australia-wide coordination through the national cabinet, he said.
“The federal government needs to play a leadership role in this regard by sourcing these supplies and making them freely and widely available in the community for business,” McKellar said. “Here is another golden opportunity for our political leaders to work in a unified way. “
Jessica Wilson, director of policy at the Business Council of Australia, which represents the country’s largest companies, said that to continue its economic recovery from the Covid recession, the nation must “tear down the remnants of the Australian fortress” and “maintain the course for reopening. ”.
“This means using all the tools possible to keep businesses running, borders open and supply chains working, including using rapid antigen testing,” she said.
“Anytime a pub has to close because of Covid, it not only impacts the licensee, but also staff, security, food vendors and live music artists – all who lose their salary during this high season. “
Hospitality and retail businesses have so far been hit the hardest by the Omicron wave, with many complaining that they have been forced to shut down due to a lack of rapid tests.
“This is the peak time for hospitality, so having another year ruined is devastating for faltering businesses after 20 months of restrictions,” said John Green, director of liquor and policing at the NSW branch of the ‘Australian Hotels Association.
Margy Osmond, executive director of the Tourism and Transportation Forum, said staff who had been forced to self-isolate after coming into contact with an HIV-positive person were leaving employers “dry”.
“Today’s announcements that the Queensland government will accept a negative rapid antigen test from January 1 and that NSW is relaxing the isolation requirements will be widely welcomed, and are a much more logical approach to dealing with the impacts of the latest outbreak ensuring that people who need most can get a PCR test and those with vacation plans can get to their destination, ”she said.
Alan Oster, the chief economist at NAB Group, said the market was already bracing for a negative retail sales figure for December compared to the previous month, but more due to the growing popularity of Black’s online sales. Friday rather than a drop in demand for Omicron.
“I would have thought that the confidence could have been affected a bit,” Oster said. “[As for] real conditions, their sales, their profits, their employment, I suspect less.
“It will be sweet, and people will say it was Omicron but it won’t – it will be the change when people buy from Black Friday rather than Boxing Day sales,” he said.
The latest NAB economic report for 2021, released on December 17, forecast Australia’s economy to rebound strongly from the 1.9% contraction in the September quarter. The bank forecasts a 4% expansion of the Australian economy, less than the 5.5% forecast of the Reserve Bank of Australia.
“I am not sure [Omicron’s] is going to change the outcome a lot, but I wouldn’t want to defend a growth rate of 5.5-6% in 2022, ”Oster said.
“We always assumed that international travel wouldn’t really start until the middle of next year,” he said, adding that the NAB’s other key assumption remains that governments don’t lock down borders.
For the record, Oster also cited evidence of uncertainty in the hospitality industry as households are reluctant to make firm reservations due to the risks of sudden changes triggered by a pandemic.
His family, for example, were able to reserve a table at the “best restaurant in Sorrento” for New Years Eve two days in advance, when the seat would normally have been taken long before.