The endless urging of Victoria to open up is baffling

The fear factor won’t lift until COVID is under control.

My favourite place to party is a bar and music venue in Harris Street, Ultimo. I haven't been for months. I have also avoided my favourite restaurant in Potts Point like the plague. Because we have the plague.

When I go to the supermarket, I wear a mask. I try to avoid public transport or PD (Petri Dish). As Etta James sang, I "don't get around much anymore".

The more people die because of COVID-19, the greater the hit to the economy, or as Alan Kohler put it last week in a tweet accompanying some Deloitte research: "The more deaths, the worse your economy."

Here is why. As Chris Richardson of Deloitte Access Economics and architect of the graph Kohler circulated, says: "The more scared you are, the less you go out." That is me. I was terrified of contracting COVID when my sainted mother-in-law was still alive. I couldn't risk her health or mine. Which is why the endless urgings from various business types are so misguided. The Business Council of Australia's chief executive Jennifer Westacott, also on the board of Wesfarmers, which owns Bunnings, spruiking for the Great Reopening on David Speers's Insiders, claims the road map for Victoria means more job losses.

"More business failures. It means businesses leaving Victoria. It means a sense of hopelessness that I think has crept into Victoria, which I think is bad for people's mental health. What we need is a plan to get business going again. So people with COVIDSafe plans, where there's no transmission, why can't they open?" she asked.



It baffles me anyone could be advocating for the GR in a state with hundreds of deaths and thousands of cases. How can there possibly be a management plan based on local hotspots when we know that COVID-19 is unnervingly mobile, from Bankstown to City Tatts up to the Central Coast? How do you manage a problem like corona?

What humans do in this new abnormal is to self-restrict. We make a decision based on COVID-19 numbers and deaths to minimise our risks. While numbers are up, our desire to go out is down. As Richardson says: "If you fail against the virus, you fail the economy."

Jeremy Courmadias, the general manager of the Fink Group (operators of Quay, the Ottos, Firedoor), saw it happen in real-time. Business had just started to pick up in a glorious honeymoon spike.

"But when the outbreak took hold in Melbourne, it really rattled Sydney diners," he said. Customers cancelled. He says customers are returning but staff have noticed a higher level of repeat business from regulars comfortable with Fink's COVID-19 regime. Plus diners can eat outside, a bigger plus than usual.

Most of us have done the same as a bloke who works at the Grattan Institute. Well before any lockdowns or even any real restrictions, he asked colleagues if he could work from home. Like 40 per cent of Australians, he had a comorbidity that increased his risk from COVID-19. Diabetes in his case. Stephen Duckett, health program director at Grattan, told me about his colleague to illustrate the way in which we have all hunkered down to protect ourselves and others. Immediate government responses in Australia shaped our perception of the disease.

"We now know better how to treat and prevent but there is a very high level of support for lockdowns because people are still anxious."

Those in business and politics who want the Great Reopening are still in the minority. The majority of politicians recognise the difficulty of too much, too soon. And if Jen Clark, whose tourism business in Victoria is not operating but whose graphic design business is still going, is anything to go by, small business would rather die than open up. In fact, they fear they might die if they open up. Clark received an email from the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry that claimed the Victorian government had failed because it did not ease restrictions quickly.

Clark wrote on Facebook: "I shouldn't have to state this, but restrictions cannot be eased quickly as people will die. If this is the government's 'failure' then I hope they fail and fail again."

Even if restrictions are eased, it is unlikely Australians will opt for getting lit, cooked or even kicking on, as the young people say. Nor do we wish to congregate in malls. We will continue to self-restrict because we know what's good for us.

Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a regular columnist.

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