South Australia's peak business body says it has approached the state government pushing for financial support for the hospitality sector, as snap restrictions are reimposed to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.
SA yesterday recorded 774 new COVID-19 cases — its highest daily tally of the pandemic, and 81 per cent of which are Omicron — prompting authorities to reintroduce tough density limits at hospitality venues, gyms and home gatherings ahead of New Year's Eve celebrations.
From today, cafes and restaurants will have density limits slashed from 75 to 25 per cent — or one person per 4 square metres.
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"The public health and social measures are to give ourselves time," SA Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said on Sunday.
Premier Steven Marshall this morning rejected suggestions the "panic button" had been hit, and continued to insist that a lockdown was not on the cards.
"I don't think a lockdown is likely. Certainly that was the recommendation yesterday from Professor Spurrier to the Police Commissioner," he told ABC Radio Adelaide.
Mr Marshall defended the decision to reopen the state's eastern borders on November 23, saying the rapid spread of the Omicron variant had been unforeseeable.
He was also asked about a meeting of health officials several weeks ago, at which Professor Spurrier raised the idea of re-closing the state's borders days into Omicron outbreaks interstate.
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"When there was a directions committee, people come from different positions," he said.
"She did say one options for us four days into knowing about Omicron was that we just close the border completely until we learned more about it.
"But there was a consensus decision … that that wouldn't be appropriate at that time. Hindsight's a great thing.
"We could have said, 'Well look, we're going to keep it closed on the 23rd', if we had a crystal ball and we knew that something was coming the world hadn't even heard about yet."
The chair of peak body Business SA, Nikki Govan, said she was taken aback by the announcement of a return to heightened social distancing measures.
"I certainly had no idea we were going to be making this jump back. It was quite devastating," she told ABC Radio Adelaide.
"This is our busiest week of the year."
Ms Govan said the government should consider targeted support aimed at businesses that would be hardest hit.
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COVID-19 decimated many independent and small businesses, particularly in the areas of restaurants, tourism, hospitality, fashion, and retail. Months of lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions saw small and independent businesses strapped for cash, with many being forced to close or unable to pay their rent for months without any revenue. While the lockdowns were particularly devastating, minority-owned businesses were hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19. These businesses, which were already considered vulnerable, employed over 8.7 million people, and are concentrated in the aforementioned business sectors were most immediately affected by the pandemic.
"Certainly, Business SA has made a case to the government. We understand the Treasurer and the Premier are considering it," she said.
"The hospitality industry and gyms are bearing the brunt of these restrictions and we think it's very appropriate that the state Chamber of Commerce makes a plea to the government.
"They've been reluctant to support just industry sectors but interstate they have done that and we think it's really important to look at those businesses that are being affected and seek some sort of support for them."
Pub shuts doors amid uncertainty
Those calls have been echoed by the Australian Hotels Association's SA branch.
"It's essential the state government provides meaningful financial support to reflect the real cost — for the employees the loss of income [and] the loss of work, for the businesses the massive costs that can't be recovered for food that would have been ordered in, for musicians, for technicians — ahead of New Year's Eve functions," chief executive Ian Horne said.
Mr Horne also wants the SA government to provide hospitality workers with free rapid antigen tests.
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A mild Covid-19 case from omicron might feel like a cold. You should still take it seriously.An international team of researchers has been tracking signs of infection throughout the pandemic with the Covid Symptom Study using a mobile app where users could self-report their symptoms. Data on the omicron variant is still preliminary, but a group of 171 app users in the United Kingdom, most of whom are vaccinated, recently reported that their top symptoms for omicron were a runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing, and a sore throat. These were also the top symptoms for people infected with the delta variant.
"That's what's going to help us preserve our industry so that we don't lose hundreds and potentially thousands of workers into the vortex of needing to be tested and isolate for a number of days," he said.
"Hospitality should take a priority, and the government should access those supplies and supply them to every single hospitality operation in the state."
Adelaide CBD publican Simone Douglas said she has been forced to close the Duke of Brunswick indefinitely because of the new density limits.
"It's another death by press conference really. I was working yesterday and the pub was a ghost town," she said.
"The industry's exhausted, we're all tired of being fed spin, things like, 'We're flexing up capacity of the system, roll up your sleeves South Australia and get vaccinated'. That's great, we're all doing that."
Mr Marshall told radio station 5AA he has already discussed options for support.
"Yesterday I met with treasury officials about what we could do to provide support, like we have all the way through," he said.
"But we can't have a hard and fast plan with a disease that keeps changing.
"I appreciate this is very frustrating."[Click through to send us your questions about COVID-19]