Lockdown end welcome

Johnston St, Maffra, during the recent lockdown.

Liz Bell

SHOPS and businesses across Wellington Shire are hoping the lifting of restrictions will be the lifeline many of them need, as they can finally open their doors to more customers and for extended services.
With no restrictions on leaving home, or how far in the state people can travel, the shire’s holiday destinations, which rely largely on tourism, are hoping for an immediate boost to business.
For hospitality and retail, despite lockdown being lifted, strict restrictions will remain in place for two weeks, including a patron cap of 100, offices can open to 25 per cent capacity with masks to be worn, and funerals and weddings can proceed with a limit of 50 people.
Victoria’s authorised worker list has been scrapped, so businesses and venues can reopen
— but the four-square-metre rule remains.
However, office worker limits are 25 per cent or 10 people, whichever is greater.
Local businesses say the restrictions have been a heavy price to pay to safeguard the health of the community.
Owner of Lochy Coffee in Loch Sport, Craig Bennett, said the town had been relatively quiet
during lockdown, resulting in staff numbers being cut and turnover down.
He said businesses had done the right thing by insisting on QR codes and supporting the community, but at a cost.
“Yes, it has really affected business here, we rely a lot on tourism so it’s good to have those
restrictions lifted and hopefully things getting back to normal,” he said.
Maffra Business and Tourism Association secretary Kevin Read said businesses had done
a lot of the “heavy lifting” during the lockdown, and many had struggled through.
“On the surface, Maffra looks pretty much the same because we have a lot of essential services here and the place may look busy, but retail has been undoubtedly taken a hit,” he said.
Mr Read said the only positive out of the lockdown was that some businesses had explored new ways to trade, and “think outside the square” by using click and collect services and online marketing.
He said businesses were not quick to complain, but the association knew the restrictions on trade had taken its toll on the wellbeing of business owners.
“However, I think everyone will come through this,” he said.
In an effort to help promote the shire and encourage the tourism dollar, Wellington Shire Council has embarked on a major rebranding program, with signs springing up around the shire displaying the new identifying description, ‘The Middle of Everywhere’.
Victoria’s business sector will get some help to get them back on their feet after the state’s fifth lockdown, with a fresh federal-state lockdown support package.
It was announced on Wednesday that thousands of small and medium-sized businesses and their landlords will receive rental assistance as part of $400 million package of state and federal government support.
Victorian workers will also be eligible for payments of up to $750 a week during any future
lockdowns under changes to emergency income support payments announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.