6th October, 2021
Politicians are spruiking an economic take-off with the reopening of Australian borders, but business planners will be wise to develop contingencies.
Whether it’s the end of lockdowns, the resumption of international travel, visiting the homes of family and friends, or simply waking up in the morning without worrying about case numbers – the stage has been set for a better, brighter 2022.
COVID-19 has caused a dramatic shift in the way most businesses operate, and despite the excitement of transitioning back into regular life, there are various matters that businesses need to be prepared for as Australia emerges from this crisis and sets out on the road back to normality.
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Despite the widespread hope that lockdowns were not going to feature is Australia during 2021, the Delta outbreak saw them becoming a major factor for businesses across the country at various points throughout this year, with New South Wales and Victoria being hit the hardest.
But, with vaccine targets having been agreed upon by National Cabinet, the staged reopening of both Victoria and New South Wales has already begun, and both states are set to lift their respective lockdowns and most other COVID-19 restrictions before the end of the year.
Hopefully this means that broad-scale lockdowns will be well and truly a thing of the past as we move into the new year.
As part of the phased opening, hospitality businesses will gradually begin hosting patrons in affected areas once again, retail businesses will be able to reopen their bricks-and-mortar stores, as well as working from the office set to resume.
While these freedoms are expected to start kicking into gear throughout October and November, capacity limits and other measures are likely to remain in place until December.
After a slow start to the national vaccine rollout campaign, momentum has been building and Australia is well on its way to reaching the vaccine targets that have been set out by National Cabinet, each of which being set to trigger the easing of various restrictions across the country.
The role that businesses play in the vaccine rollout becomes crucial as the country edges closer to those targets, especially the end goal of a 90 percent double vaccination rate.
Major corporations such as Qantas, Woolworths, Coles, and the big four banks are leading by example by launching initiatives that will see their employees being able to receive the jab at work, News.com.au reports.
Other corporations like BHP, Rio Tinto, Lendlease and Virgin Australia are all expected to follow suit, which will give additional opportunities to millions of Australians to get vaccinated.
Outside of running vaccine drives in workplaces, other major corporations have been taking even stronger measures to increase vaccination rates.
Telstra has been considering enforcing a ‘no jab no job’ policy, while Spotlight Group has indicated only be offering end of year bonuses to employees that have received the jab.
Despite the important role businesses are playing in helping the country reach its vaccine targets, it’s important for them to be aware of the legal and ethical concerns emerging as the conversation evolves.
Before going ahead with any sort of vaccine policy or strategy, businesses should review the government guidelines and directions that have been issued by the Fair Work Ombudsman and seek tailored advice from a legal professional.
Providing evidence of having received the COVID-19 vaccine is going to become mainstream in accessing post-lockdown freedoms such as entry into hospitality venues, retail stores and hair salons, attending events, and travelling both domestically and internationally.
At present, the NSW government is finalising the development of its Service NSW app so that it integrates a person’s vaccination status details, allowing them to provide digital proof of vaccine while checking in to a venue with the existing QR code systems that have been used for contact tracing purposes to date.
A two-week pilot of the new software system is expected to take place in early October, and assuming it functions adequately, it will be rolled out across NSW and Victoria as the states gradually exit their respective lockdowns.
Whether businesses will face penalties if they fail to check a customer’s vaccine status remains to be confirmed.
The closure of retail has seen courier services such as Australia Post experience unprecedented levels of demand, but with hundreds of its employees in self isolation, increased demand with a decreased workforce has led to a perfect storm of supply chain pressures and delays.
In fact, to keep up with the demand without compromising on its health and safety policies, AusPost announced a pause on parcel pickups across Melbourne for five days from the start of October, SmartCompany reports.
The surge in e-commerce spending has caused the postal service to deliver parcels over the weekend, too.
With Christmas around the corner, the pressure is expected to continue mounting on courier services, with the only reprieve being the opening of retail stores once vaccine targets are hit in the coming weeks.
A major component of Australia’s plan to reopen is the removal of the international travel ban – which is expected to be lifted December, more than 20 months after the initial ban was announced.
At present, Australians are required to apply for an exemption to travel overseas and are sent to quarantine hotels for two weeks upon their return.
However, to the delight of businesses that work in jurisdictions outside of Australia, the removal of the international travel ban will see vaccinated Australians being able to travel overseas without an exemption, and quarantine at home for shorter periods of time.
Flight schedules have been released by leading airlines Qantas and Virgin Australia and are showing that flights to popular destinations such as London, Honolulu, Fiji and others are scheduled to leave Australia in December.
At the same time, no clear date has yet been set for when Australia will be open to international visitors, which would have significant benefits to tourism and many sectors beyond.
What we’ve heard so far is that Prime Minister Morrison doesn’t plan to open Australia to international visitors before 2022, and that he intends to prioritise skilled migrants and students in the process.
The way in which interstate travel will work remains to be seen, with no clear indication from the premiers of both Queensland and Western Australian as to when or under which conditions they will be opening their borders to Victoria and NSW.
Quarantine-free travel to and from New Zealand remains unclear as well – with New Zealand currently grappling with its own Delta outbreak. As a result, we might expect travel to open in fits and starts, with some restrictions occurring throughout the rest of the fiscal year and beyond.
Many businesses affected by the various COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions across the country have relied on financial assistance from the government to keep their heads above water during 2021.
Before the arrival of the Delta variant, JobKeeper was the main support mechanism in place for financial assistance, paying out billions of dollars in subsidies to business affected by the lockdowns of 2020.
As JobKeeper wound up and Australia was hit the Delta variant, the government took a more focused approach to its stimulus support, teaming up with the state governments to support on an industry level, and making disaster relief payments to affected businesses and individuals.
But, the Treasurer has called time on the disaster relief payment scheme as well, announcing that payments would begin to dwindle as the states reached their vaccination targets, and end permanently three weeks after the 80 percent vaccine target is reached, The ABC reports.
With Prime Minister Scott Morrison tipped to call the election between February and May 2022, it can be expected that pledges of support to assist businesses as they break off the shackles of COVID-19 will feature on both sides of the political spectrum.
Reports have emerged of general voter dissatisfaction with both Morrison and the leader of the opposition, Anthony Albanese, with a Newspoll survey indicating that, if the election was to occur now, 12 percent of voters would opt for independents or smaller parties instead of Labor or the Coalition.
This being the case, federal politics will likely continue to hold interest for business operators at all levels as we see the major parties ramp up attempts to win the hearts and minds of Australian voters well into the new year.
Considering the above, there are a number of key issues that businesses should keep in mind as 2022 edges closer.
For those working in the hospitality and retail industries, things look like they’re about to pick up again – so don’t be caught by surprise. Now is the time to begin preparing to reopen, while keeping in mind that staff readjustment requires patience and empathy.
Tourism businesses can expect to benefit from the reopening of domestic and international borders but should be wary that, given the 20-month long international travel ban, cashed up Australians may be more inclined to spend their tourism dollars overseas this summer.
Also, despite the imminent reopening of workplaces, many organisations have made a significant shift away from traditional models of office attendance, so it’s unlikely we’ll return to pre-2020 levels of foot traffic in the city for some time.
Finally, with the COVID-19 disaster relief scheme set to finish up in the coming months, a gap in guaranteed cashflow may arise for some. That means if you’ve been reliant on this or any other COVID-19 related relief, now’s the time to discuss your options with your accountant, bookkeeper and any other relevant business advisors.