Protecting the health of Australians must remain the nation’s number one priority, but a smarter, consistent and more predictable approach to restrictions will help reduce the economic and social costs of managing the virus.
This is according to the Business Council of Australia, which commissioned a study by professional consultancy firm EY. This shows that 100 days of lockdown restrictions at current levels would force the economy into reverse and take it back to the lowest point of last year’s recession conditions.
“While vaccination remains our best defence, the realities of the Delta strain and vaccination rates means state and territory lockdowns are likely to continue,’’ the council’s Chief Executive, Jennifer Westacott, said.
“Nationally consistent approaches and predictability about how restrictions are triggered, enforced and ultimately lifted will improve confidence in the management of outbreaks, alleviating community and business confusion, uncertainty and anxiety.
Hard-won economic gains cannot be allowed to unravel
“We must accept there will be a cost in controlling the virus, but we can’t sit back and watch all of the hard-won economic gains of the last 12 months unravel.”
She believed the current NSW scheme should be a template for combined Commonwealth and State-funded financial assistance which is targeted, designed to keep people in their jobs, uncapped, has adequate integrity safeguards, and only applies during the period of lockdowns.
“Our economy is not bulletproof. Restrictions are also taking a toll on the mental health and wellbeing of Australians. Smarter lockdowns can reduce both the financial and human costs,’’ Westacott warned.
Among the findings of the study are that lockdowns in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have been costing the nation $2.8-billion per week and impacting 1.6-million workers. The NSW lockdown accounts for nearly two-thirds of this cost, with economic losses there accumulating at $257-million each day.
The construction sector, which is a major contributor to economic activity and employment, has been hard hit by restrictions. If some core construction activity can be restarted through a smarter strategy, the overall economic impacts could be reduced by up to $500-million per week, helping preserve hard-won economic gains.
Use consistent definitions to trigger localised lockdowns
The Business Council has now released what it says are practical national guidelines for smarter management of the virus.
Among the key suggestions are updated national hotspot definitions to reflect the Delta strain and the use of consistent definitions to trigger lockdowns, as well as lockdowns being localised to affected areas rather than automatically locking down entire states.
There should also be agreement on predictable and consistent national public health orders, and authorities must provide milestones around lockdown stages to remove the day-to-day guessing game around rules and decisions.
“Lockdowns have enormous economic and social costs and should be a last resort. But where they are used, we need to move from snap to smarter lockdowns,’’ Westacott said.