Business owners in Docklands fear COVID-19 has “shattered the once bustling metropolis” despite hopes the vaccine rollout will encourage more people to return to Melbourne’s CBD.
Docklands Chamber of Commerce president Johanna Maxwell described the scenes at Docklands as “completely flat” and could not see that changing in the near future.
It comes after a City of Melbourne report found 47 per cent of street-front shops were closed, with 21.9 per cent vacant and 25 per cent temporarily closed due to COVID-19 restriction uncertainty.
“It’s shattering because pre-COVID it was thriving,” Ms Maxwell told NCA NewsWire.
“It’s not just our hospitality sector that’s hurting, it’s our chemists, dentists, chiros, the dry cleaners, and boot repair people – everything’s impacted, even the hairdressers.”
She said the village had borne the brunt of a year of rolling COVID-19 restrictions with the loss of 20,000 city workers.
She also said consistent restrictions had devastated businesses, with business owners anxious about being thrown back into lockdown.
And despite 75 per cent of workers in Victoria now able to return to the office, Ms Maxwell said she did not believe it would have much of an impact on businesses being able to bounce back.
“People will still have the option to work from home and won’t be planning to come back full time,” she said.
“We’re hoping people will start to realise that the entertainment and the things we have in Docklands is still available and our focus now is on a slow-burn recovery plan.”
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive Paul Guerra anticipated more workers to return to officers, with the government removing the compulsory mask rule in workplaces.
“Wearing a mask in the workplace was a major disincentive for people to return when they could do their work at home without a mask,” he said.
“Businesses that rely on foot traffic from office workers have done it tougher than most this past year and I encourage everyone to support them in whatever way they can: buy a coffee, have a work lunch, go shopping on your lunchbreak. Every little bit counts.
“Victorian businesses have never seen a year like 2020 and, for some, the damage caused by COVID-19 related lockdowns and restrictions will result in them closing their doors for good. Sadly, the real pain point is yet to come as JobKeeper and other support measures come to an end.”
Health Minister Martin Foley said the government was committed to turning a “very tough 12 months” around and reinvigorating Melbourne’s CBD.
“The vaccination program is an important part of instilling confidence in the community, in our public health officials, as we have still got a long way to go in this pandemic,” he told reporters on Monday morning.
The first shipment marked the start of the “rollout ramp-up”, with the Oxford-developed jab joining the country’s vaccine rollout effort scheme from March 8.
A further 50,000 Pfizer doses will be split up between the states over the next 24 hours.