Call for shift from snap lockdowns to smarter lockdowns

The Business Council of Australia is calling for a more consistent and predictable approach to lockdown restrictions around the country to help bring down the economic and social costs of managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Analysis commissioned by the Business Council and carried out by EY reveals that 100 days of the type of lockdown restrictions currently in place would reverse the recent economic bounce back, putting the economy back into recession.

“While vaccination remains our best defence, the realities of the Delta strain and vaccination rates means state and territory lockdowns are likely to continue,” Business Council 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.

“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,” Westacott added. “The NSW scheme should be a template for Commonwealth-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.”

The EY analysis reveals that:

  • 100 days of restrictions at the current level would plunge the economy back into the recession conditions experienced at the height of the pandemic in 2020
  • lockdowns in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia are costing $2.8 billion per week and impacting 1.6 million workers
  • restarting core construction activity through a smarter strategy would reduce the economic impact of lockdowns by $250 million to $500 million per week, helping maintain some of the economic recovery experienced in 2021.

“As we have throughout the pandemic, we need to lead from the front and recalibrate our response to the current conditions,’” Westacott said, announcing practical guidelines to help manage COVID more smartly:

  • update national hotspot definitions to reflect the Delta strain
  • use consistent definitions to trigger lockdowns
  • restrict lockdowns to affected local areas rather than automatically locking down whole states or territories
  • publicise milestones around lockdown stages to remove the uncertainty about rules and decisions
  • agree on predictable and consistent national public health orders
  • ensure support for individuals is paid quickly, and is easy to apply for and understand
  • set up national architecture to roll-out an expanded version of NSW’s JobSaver scheme
  • ensure impacted businesses are eligible for administrative relief, including tax deferrals
  • consider extending support for heavily impacted aviation and tourism sectors
  • outline a roadmap to reopening which includes a role for business to speed up the national vaccine roll-out, and
  • provide clear information on the availability, risks and benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine based on the latest medical advice.

“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. “We need to provide more certainty, and stop people worrying day-to-day where they stand.

“Business, government, health officials and the union movement need to work together on an exit plan out of the pandemic otherwise we run that risk that Australia falls behind its international competitors.”