CANBERRA, Australia — Business Australia calls for a more innovative approach to tackling the coronavirus than the current response, which has seen half the population in lockdown, negatively impacting the national economy.

South Australia is set to end its restrictions on the night of July 27, while Victoria is yet to make a final decision whether it will do the same.

But New South Wales looks mired in lockdown beyond its scheduled ending on July 30, with daily new virus cases remaining well above 100 in recent days.

Research by consultants Ernst and Young and commissioned by the Business Council of Australia shows these three lockdowns cost the economy AU$2.8 billion ($2.06 billion) per week and impact 1.6 million workers.

The lockdown at the southeastern state, New South Wales, alone accounts for nearly two-thirds of this cost.

Furthermore, Ernst and Young estimate that 100 days of lockdown restrictions at current levels would force the economy into reverse, taking it back to the lowest point of last year’s recession.

The council’s chief executive Jennifer Westacott says, “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.” (Lukas Coch/AAP Image)

The Business Council of Australia said given the highly infectious nature of the coronavirus Delta strain and the current state of vaccination rates, there needs to be a smarter approach to lockdowns.

“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,” said Jennifer Westacott, chief executive officer of the Business Council of Australia.

“We must accept there will be a cost in controlling the virus, but we can’t sit back and watch all the hard-won economic gains of the last 12 months unravel.”

The council has released a set of guidelines it wants to see implemented. These include consistent definitions to trigger lockdowns localized to affected areas rather than shutting down the whole state.

At the same time, milestones around lockdown stages should be provided to remove the day-to-day guessing game around the rules and decisions.

It also calls for a roadmap to reopening the economy, which includes a role for businesses to speed up the national vaccine rollout.

“Lockdowns have enormous economic and social costs and should be a last resort,” Westacott said. “But where they are used, we need to move from snap to smarter lockdowns.”

As it is, consumer confidence has taken a major hit during the recent spate of lockdowns, a worry in the near term for retailers who are still open.

The weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index is released on July 27. Last week the index tumbled 5.2 percent, its sharpest weekly fall since March last year and during the early stages of the pandemic. The latest survey was conducted this weekend of July 24 and 25.

Edited by Saptak Datta and Ritaban Misra

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