It was proudly trumpeted as ‘Freedom Day’ by the State Government.
But for much of the local business community in the region, October 11 was anything but.
Far from bringing patrons back to pubs, cafes and shopping precincts, the new rules giving greater freedoms exclusively to the double-dose vaccinated have seen revenues plunge across the Northern Rivers.
Many businesses and community organisations have, in fact, elected to close their doors completely, until at least December 1, choosing to bunker down rather than act as policemen for the government’s new regime.
‘You probably couldn’t have done a worse thing to Byron,’ President of the Byron Business Chamber, Mark Ryan, said.
‘We don’t have the high rate of double dose vaccination in our community that they have in somewhere like Sydney, essentially because the vaccine wasn’t available.
‘Now with these new restrictions, we’re basically being punished for our lower vaccination rate.’
Revenue down 70%
With sales for local businesses down by as much as 70 per cent, the Chamber is calling on the State Government to amend the rules, so that locals with one dose under their belts can return to non-essential shops and venues.
The government recently amended the rules so that staff with a single dose could return to work. But without any customers to serve, this has simply resulted in additional staffing costs for business.
‘The current vaccination level in the Byron local government area (LGA) is now over 75 per cent of eligible people having had their single dose’, Mr Ryan said.
According to the COVID-19 data and statistics website in the Tweed LGA 86.1 per cent have had their first vaccination, Ballina LGA is at 93.7 per cent, Lismore is at 88.6 per cent, Kyogle 86.2 per cent, Richmond Valley is at 88.1 per cent and Byron LGA is now at 80.4 per cent first dose vaccination.
‘Without the ability of these vaccinated people to enter the marketplace, it will mean that local businesses will not have customers to serve, and may be forced to close their doors once again’, Mr Ryan said.
In fact, the roller shutters are already going down.
All but two of the region’s community artisan markets have elected to close their doors until December because it is virtually impossible for them, or their stallholders, to effectively police the government’s new restrictions.
This includes the markets in Bangalow, Mullumbimby, Brunswick Heads and the Channon.
The organisers of the monthly artisan market in Byron, which supports over 200 local businesses, say they may also be unable to continue running the event.
They’re going to continue running Byron’s weekly Twilight market, and use it as a barometer to see whether the larger event can work or not.
Byron Markets Manager, Kate Hardman, was unequivocal in her assessment of how the new rules were affecting local business.
‘This is a backward step for our region and the economic impacts are far reaching,’ Ms Hardman said.
Hundreds of stallholders who rely on the markets for their livelihoods are now facing a very lean six weeks and an anxious wait to see whether they will be able to continue trading when the current rules change again on December 1.
Few are entitled to government support such as the COVID-19 disaster payment, which was effectively limited to those businesses affected by lockdowns.
‘I’m okay because I can get the pension, but some people are in all sorts of trouble,’ long-term stallholder Mignon Frances said.
‘They’ve got mortgages to pay, with little or no income coming in to pay them,’ said Ms Frances, who is also a member of the stallholder committee.
‘If you take into account all of the lockdowns, and now this, it’s a lot of lost income.’
Meanwhile, local MLC Ben Franklin (Nationals) announced on social media that ‘residents from Greater Sydney will not be able to travel to regional NSW until November 1. ‘To support businesses during this time, JobSaver will be extended to offer support at the 30 per cent of weekly payroll rate’.