Small business owners are bearing the brunt of Sydney’s three-week lockdown, with one worker calling the restrictions communistic as the new measures mean many in the retail, hospitality and construction sectors can not work until the end of the month.
Nam Nguyen, the owner of a barbershop in the heart of Fairfield, which has emerged as one of Sydney’s biggest COVID-19 hotspots, told The Epoch Times he was going to be forced out of work after losing 100 percent of his customers since he shut down the store.
In the past three weeks, Nguyen has lost over $5,000 in revenue.
“I’m just gonna lose my job,” Nguyen said. “I still have to pay for my rent, living cost, food, insurance, utilities, you name it, all while I’m losing my income.”
He noted that some loyal customers had invited him over to do their hair and earn some extra money, but he had to turn them down because even that would be counted as breaking the rules.
“Last year was a bit better because we could still work, but now we’re not allowed to,” Nguyen said.
Currently, Nguyen is receiving $500 a week as part of the government’s economic support package, but he said it could barely compensate for the financial loss his business is suffering.
“If the lockdown is extended, some medium-sized businesses will be crushed, I mean really crushed. Even if the government gives them $10,000, it won’t be enough. Some are extremely worried; some are going into insolvency,” he said.
“It’s gonna be quite awful.”
Construction companies are also protesting the lockdown rules, which saw construction sites across Greater Sydney forced to close until July, a move that is estimated to cost millions every week.
Khoa Tran, a worker at a construction site in Parramatta, criticised what he called the “communist-style” restrictions.
“What the authority is doing is fuelling fear in people. It’s similar to how communist regimes utilise fear to educate their citizens,” Tran said.“These rules push people to the corner. No money to pay bills, no food to eat… Will the government be able to afford it?”
“They said they would lockdown until the pandemic ends, but you can’t tell when it will end,” he added, “People will have to learn to live with the virus somehow.”
According to The Financial Review, the three-week shutdown is costing the state $150 million a day in lost economic activity, which will take longer to recover if the restrictions are maintained for a further month.
Meanwhile, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) estimated the retail sector would lose about $1 billion in trade per week as long as the lockdown is still in place.
“We’ve got grave concerns for businesses, and particularly smaller retailers in the CBD. They were already crippled by last year’s lockdowns, and with the absence of JobKeeper this time, it’s a double whammy,” ARA CEO Paul Zahra told 9News.com.au.
“There’s also a double cost to this – there’s a financial hit, and there’s the mental health hit for business owners who are deciding that it’s just not worth it.”
The federal and state governments have stated that the lockdown is vital to curb the increasingly contagious Delta variant, which has so far caused only five deaths out of over 500 positive cases in Australia’s most populous state New South Wales.
No official cost-benefit analysis has yet to be released to justify the decision making.
While a number of epidemiologists back the tough COVID response, some economists argued the pain is not worth it.
The University of NSW Economist Gigi Foster pointed out the trade-off from strict lockdowns not only includes economic losses and increased inequality. It also includes deteriorating mental health, long-term costs to children and university students whose education is interrupted, rising domestic violence, and other health care problems.
“If we counted cases of all viruses that infect us and treated them like the fearsome pestilence of the sort that COVID has been elevated to in the media, we would do nothing all day but hide under the bed,” Foster wrote in an op-ed for Sydney Morning Herald.
Foster also noted at the Australian Conference of Economists 2021 that Australian policymakers should be held accountable for the “greatest economic policy debacle in a generation.”
Last year research by the International Trade Centre found COVID-19 lockdown policies can bring five small firms to bankruptcy in as little as three months.
It also revealed that smaller companies tend to be more strongly affected by the restrictions than larger ones, while the majority of businesses (55 percent) are negatively affected.