Lord mayor calls for Australia to set COVID-19 ‘freedom day’ target

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Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp has called for Australia’s leaders to set national targets for the level of vaccinations required to let the country “open up and live with the virus”.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced the state’s five-day snap lockdown will continue beyond Tuesday night. And as the state recorded another 13 cases on Monday (including one Mildura case reported on Sunday), Cr Capp said uncertainty was hurting businesses as much as the lockdowns.

Lord mayor Sally Capp outside Melbourne Town Hall during last year’s stage four restrictions.Credit:Arsineh Houspian

“After more than a year of lockdowns there is still no ‘freedom day’ on our horizon, which means there is no hope for our small business owners and workers,” she said.

“National cabinet must urgently agree on how many people need to be vaccinated before the lockdowns stop. This will provide certainty and confidence to business that there is an end date for the devastating lockdowns, state border closures and crippling uncertainty.”

Cr Capp said until that happened, the federal government should reinstate JobKeeper so small businesses in particular could survive until vaccination rates were high enough.

One in five retail premises in Melbourne’s CBD is now closed as the cumulative effect of lockdowns bites.

Britain marked its so-called freedom day on Monday, abandoning almost all coronavirus restrictions and lifting social distancing requirements.

There, 68.3 per cent of the adult population has received two doses of vaccines. Public health experts have warned eased restrictions could lead to another surge in case numbers, which climbed to more than 54,000 on Saturday.

Cr Capp said without a national target, the cumulative effect on small businesses would be “immense”.

“Now is the time for national cabinet to set a vaccination target based on medical advice and tell small businesses when we will open up and live with the virus.”

She called for a significant increase in direct financial support for businesses hit by the latest lockdown.

“The economic and social outcomes will be much better if we can keep small businesses afloat now rather than try to start again when we can open,” she said.

In May the City of Melbourne commissioned Deloitte Access Economics to chart the effects of lockdowns on the CBD’s economy. The research, which did not take into account Victoria’s June and July lockdowns, or the NSW outbreak, showed it would take four years for the CBD’s economy to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

The report predicted Melbourne will return to its pre-COVID-19 peak of about $74 billion gross regional product by the second half of 2024.

GRP was slashed by more than half in 2020 due to the pandemic, dropping to almost $40 billion.

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