COVID-19: Capes businesses not prepared for ‘new normal’ life ahead of border reopening

Breanna RedheadBusselton Dunsborough Times
Talia Purdy masks up for work at Origins Markets.
Camera IconTalia Purdy masks up for work at Origins Markets. Credit: Breanna Redhead/BDT

As COVID restrictions throughout the Capes increase with the newly introduced mask mandate, fears rise for businesses in the community, with “not enough time” to adapt to regulations.

With borders set to open in less than a month and the South West currently in its peak tourism period, community leaders worry for how the commerce sector may cope with this ‘new normal’.

President of the Dunsborough and Yallingup Chamber of Commerce Dominique Monteleone said the ever-changing rules and restrictions weren’t giving businesses adequate time to get a grip on the situation.

Dunsborough Yallingup Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Dominique Monteleone.
Camera IconDunsborough and Yallingup Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Dominique Monteleone. Credit: Supplied

“They need to give them tools to explain protocols to customers in order to be respected, if they have no idea what they’re doing they aren’t going to have that authority when speaking with customers

“It’s definitely easier said than done, however, it also fuels a lack of confidence in all government bodies and reflects poorly on them, but also sees businesses suffer reputationally.”

President of the Busselton Chamber of Commerce Michael Brown said the mandate had already caused a plunge in business.

“I spoke with someone from Origins Markets who has the frequency of shoppers has diminished already, in just these past few days,” he said.

“This time is going to be detrimental for business.”

Sour Boys’ Matt Brick, left, and Mat Maynard mask up for work
Camera IconSour Boys’ Matt Brick, left, and Mat Maynard mask up for work Credit: Breanna Redhead/BDT

“It’s disappointing, because obviously, they are exposed, and there is a potential for them to have been exposed to a person and for them to come down yet, but they think, ‘Well I wasn’t exposed so I don’t have to wear a mask’,” Mr Brown said.

“We know a number of businesses that found it difficult to get Perth people to mask up, the biggest issues were mostly COVID exposure was here, and the fact that it was so blatantly obvious that there was such a disregard for those guidelines by many people coming down from Perth.

“Hopefully now the entire region is under the mandate it removes this ‘us versus them’ mentality.”

Ms Monteleone said there was also a lot of influence preventing visitors from masking up.

“A lot of people are influenced by friends and family who live down here that they’re staying with because they’ll say, ‘No it’s fine don’t worry’, but visitors who are staying independently were more responsible in that regard,” she said.

“You only have to look at the statistics and we know our population swells three times over the summer holiday period and that wasn’t reflected in people wearing masks.

“We have a very relaxed approach to COVID, we’re in our own bubble and recent holiday period has been a clear example of that, we all have a role to play, but sadly the response down here was not the level to match.”

TerryWhite Chemmart Waroona owner Judy Mather administers the vaccine to a Waroona resident.
Camera IconTerryWhite Chemmart Waroona owner Judy Mather administers the vaccine to a Waroona resident. Credit: Luke McPherson/RegionalHUB

And with the highly restrictive vaccination mandate right around the corner, Ms Monteleone fears the placid down-south lifestyle is pulling people away from getting the jab, thus hurting the commerce sector.

“Down here there’s a really quite natural and organic lifestyle, off the grid and that philosophy of life is a key attraction for people to move down here and the vaccination mandate goes against that,” she said.

“Whether that’s a personal decision or not there are so many reasons people don’t want to be forced into it, but every hospitality business is being affected because of it.

“We can see trends that the uptake of vaccine and the level of response has been quite negative here in the South West compared to rest of State.”

With all these new changes to be implemented with in the next month, she expects the first quarter to “set the scene” for the second quarter.

Mr Brown said the complacency within the community would particularly cause the hospitality industry to suffer.

“It causes staffing shortages and that provides an additional burden on those businesses,” he said.

“The problem is in the hospitality industry, many of the staff fronting those industries, are young, or new to the scene and sometimes they just don’t like confrontation.

“From my personal perspective, I think it’s pretty irresponsible for staff to say, ‘I’m not going to get a vaccine because I don’t know what’s in it’, or given the fact that they will rely on the medical profession for so many other things.

“It’s this false sense of confidence, or that we’re able to deal with it better than anyone else, when we know we’ve just been extremely lucky.”

Shadow minister for small business Dr Steve Thomas believes this false security comes down to the State Government’s lack of action in preparing for the arrival of COVID.

Pictures of the WA Liberal Party state Council Meeting at Crown in Burswood, Perth.
Pictured are Steve Thomas
Photo Swanborough. 270321
Camera IconSteve Thomas. Credit: Ross Swanborough/The West Australian

“That’s two years to provide the certainty that business is still having to call for today!”

He said planning for COVID management in the community should have been completed because outbreaks were proving to occur despite high vaccination rates as shown over east.

“When COVID inevitably arrives into our bubble, the impact on the community and particularly businesses will depend on the response plan the Government has in place and that plan should be available to businesses well in advance of the opening, because for the vulnerable uncertainty risks their very existence,” he said.

“Business and industry are crying out for a coherent plan to be made public, but the Government seems unable to deliver one.

“The Government should do its job properly and release an adequate plan for the inevitable.”

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