With just one week until the planned phasing out of lockdown, Canberra's business community are calling on the ACT government to provide a roadmap to guide their way back.
After most Canberra businesses were forced to drastically reduce trading or shutdown completely last month in response to the outbreak, traders want a plan for reopening ahead of September 17.
With announcements foreshadowed for next Tuesday, Inner South Canberra Business Council president John-Paul Romano said clarity was needed regarding whether all businesses would reopen and what restrictions they'd be operating under when they did.
The Italian Brothers, Manuka owner said the cost of paying staff when government support was taken away meant operating under one person per four square-metre restrictions was as bad for most businesses as trading during lockdown.
Mr Romano said if grants would be taken away from next week businesses needed an opportunity to plan accordingly.
"That's really important for a lot of business owners to get some kind of certainty around where their future lies," he said.
"As lockdown progresses this anxiety grows amongst business owners who don't know whether there'll be money coming in from the government."
Mr Romano said many business owners he'd spoken with felt they'd been on the defensive over the past few weeks, with the ACT government reiterating staff's failure to wear masks correctly during the daily COVID updates.
He said the lack of communication and consultation with owners was driving business away.
"We've got a lot of empty shops in Canberra and I think we're going to see even more after this outbreak," Mr Romano said.
"Just this morning I witnessed some documents for a rather large business owner in Canberra who is moving his whole business to Queensland, that'll be millions of dollars out of the city's economy because he's just sick of the way they're handling things."
Fyshwick Business Association President Rob Evans said while businesses understood the ACT government was limited by the unpredictability of COVID, it didn't take away from the fact they were struggling.
"It's been a really, really difficult period, they're very restricted in what they can do," Mr Evans said.
The chief executive officer of Allbids auction house said businesses would like to work more closely with the government to allow those who could operate with minimal contact to open up sooner than September 17.
"We want to do the right thing, we want to try and stop any spread of the virus and all our businesses are actively encouraging people to get vaccinations and to trade in a very safe way," Mr Evans said.
Added to the pain of lockdown, several Fyshwick businesses have been listed as exposure sites throughout this outbreak, including at least six at the Fyshwick markets and several Canberra Outlet Centre shops listed as close contact sites.
The Fyshwick Business Association responded by opening Canberra's first pop-up drive through vaccination site at the start of the month. The association will team up with Master Builders to run another pop up drive through vaccination clinic aimed at vaccinating those in the construction industry this Saturday.
ACT Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee has criticised the government's provision of support payments for businesses, claiming delays had left sections of the community feeling let down.
More than 5770 Canberra businesses have applied for the business support grants and an additional 1852 have applications in progress. On Wednesday, close to $7 million had been paid out to more than 400 businesses.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the government was in regular communication with various industry stakeholders on the public health measures, as well as the numerous financial support mechanisms available to businesses significantly impacted by the lockdown.
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Mr Barr said announcements on the public health response required when lockdown ended would be made ahead of that date.
"Predicting the future with this virus is impossible," Mr Barr said. "The situation can deteriorate dramatically inside 24 hours."
The Chief Minister said the strategy was to get caseloads down as quickly as possible which meant new cases were linked and in quarantine for their infectious period.
While NSW and Victoria's premiers now speak of living with COVID in the community, Mr Barr said Canberra shouldn't easily give up the position it has had throughout the pandemic, with low numbers or no virus in the ACT.
He said many competing priorities - including the needs of business - would need to be balanced while vaccination rates remained at an unsafe level to further open up.
"Canberrans have worked hard to minimise the spread of the virus and significantly reduce the risk to our community," he said.
"We did it last year, and we are doing it now. Our number one priority is public health."
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