COVID-19 Rules: Unfairness is Leading to Business Closures

by Sonia Hickey

As the nation reopens now that the immediate threat presented by COVID-19 has passed, most Australian businesses are finding themselves faced with a list of new rules and regulations they must comply with in order to minimise public transmission of the virus.

Welcome to the future. Many of these regulations are undoubtedly here to stay. And so too, will be the hefty fines that accompany any breach of them.

A pub in Roma in Queensland was recently fined more than $6,000 for breaching new post COVID-19 rules with regard to social distancing and the registration of patrons.

‘Fine could send us broke’

And it is a fine the pub says could send it broke on the back of weeks without trading because of lockdowns. Of course, many country areas had already been struggling for years under a crippling drought and then many more suffered bushfires before the threat of COVID-19 at the beginning of March, which forced many businesses into mandatory shutdown or limited trading.

The Royal on Ninety-Nine Pub was fined $6,672 by plain-clothes officers from Brisbane last weekend. Police say the hotel had been warned the day before, and in a statement, Queensland Police confirmed officers had fined three businesses at Roma, Injune and Wallumbilla, including a hotel that had 200 people inside at the time.

Of course many would say that if the government has rolled out new regulations, then it would be remiss not to enforce them, particularly as the health threat posed by COVID-19 still exists. Victoria has recorded more than 60 new cases and 10 postcodes within the state are now back in lockdown.

More education needed

But in these early months as we all get used to the ‘new normal’, there are strong calls for a relaxation period of the fines, and more education, particularly for small businesses. Plus, all Australians need to understand that they too have a role to play, keeping sensible distances in public places, and staying home if they’re not well.

The pub says that one of the breaches it was fined for was not registering patrons, something it normally does, but limited staff and high patronage over the weekend meant that names were not recorded.

Ironically Roma has recorded zero cases of the coronavirus, although it does potentially face more risk now, as the Queensland Government urges residents to explore the state over the school holidays, in an effort to revive the economy.

While the pub intends to fight the fine, it is just one of many small businesses around the country that face increasing operating costs, or risk harsh fines, at time when people just don’t have money to spend.

While the Federal Government JobKeeper Scheme has benefitted about 3.5 million workers since it was implemented several weeks ago, it is set to end in September. The Government has already mooted the idea of ending it sooner, and it’s expected that unemployment will rise.

While the Government also increased the JobSeeker allowance during COVID-19 there are no guarantees that it will remain, and looks likely to return to just $40 per day.

Financial stress leads to depression

This will undoubtedly plunge many people into poverty. And, as has been well documented, financial stress can be a trigger for depression and suicide.

About 3,000 people commit suicide every year in Australia, but experts are warning the number will rise due to the economic and social impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, and could increase by as much as fifty percent, particularly if unemployment soars above 10 percent.

Financial stress can also be a cause of domestic violence. During lockdown, domestic and family violence victims seeking urgent assistance increased by 10 percent. That number may also continue to rise as people find themselves without work and unable to pay their bills.

Author

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

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