Beginning of the end of the COVID crisis?

Beginning

Hopefully, and especially given the changing attitudes towards living with COVID-19 seen in our two largest states, the beginning of the end of this crisis may be in sight. 

Ai Group has been relentless in arguing on behalf of our members and business generally for governments to take a more targeted approach to COVID restrictions and move towards living with the virus, as they now appear to be doing. 

Every day I hear from members about how they are dealing with COVID. Frustrations around closed national and state borders tops the list of barriers to business.  

The effective closure of our international borders is having a serious impact on many businesses especially as they see the rest of the world opening up and their competitors travelling freely. We saw some welcome announcements from the Federal Government in September on preparations for our international border opening, but free movement will be strongly dependent on vaccination rates and the states coming on board.  

The Prime Minister has spoken of beginning to open up when vaccination rates hit 70 and 80 per cent and home quarantine will then become the norm pending successful state trials.

Until this happens, challenges remain including the need for exit approvals, flights prone to cancellation and few businesspeople to date have been prepared to endure two weeks hotel quarantine. We are consulting governments on how the re-opening will be achieved and stressing the importance of business travel to our economic recovery. 

In discussions with governments on borders we have urged them to: 

  • Allow fully vaccinated business travellers the automatic right to depart and return to Australia.
  • Allow fully vaccinated Australian business travellers and business visa holders and returning Australians who pass a COVID-19 rapid test on arrival, and at regular intervals after arrival, to home quarantine in all states and territories as is being trialled in South Australia.
  • Remove the travel arrival quota for fully vaccinated business travellers and business visa holders and returning Australians.

The current vaccination trajectory should see these ambitions achievable by Christmas. 

On state borders, once NSW and Victoria open up to each other and the world, inevitably the other states will follow suit, especially when the target vaccination rates are reached.  

We are also arguing for national consistency for the Health Pass that will be used as proof of vaccination status and which would, for example, provide access to workplaces where vaccines are mandated, major events, and for international travel. Consistency is important as we don’t want the complexity of the states and territories all having different requirements and we are urging governments to limit its use as much as possible. The passes should also have a limited shelf life. Once the highest levels of vaccination are reached they may not be necessary – as has been found with the UK dropping vaccine passport plans altogether. 

We have been big supporters of the vaccine roll-out and the need for governments to help businesses who want to host workplace-based vaccinations. On this we had a win recently with the government agreeing to set up a COVID-19 Vaccination Claim Scheme. This Scheme aims to provide a simple, streamlined process to reimburse/compensate eligible people for “injuries” associated with COVID-19 vaccinations, including in the workplace, without the need for legal proceedings. It will assist in protecting employers from claims by employees in such circumstances. 

I have also been a strong supporter of Rapid Antigen Testing, highlighting that while such tests are a valuable workplace safety resource for businesses, when governments require employers to use such testing on workers in certain circumstances, then they should be provided free to businesses. The tests should be made available for home use and the restrictive requirement for supervision of these tests removed as soon as practically possible.  

Whether or not to mandate the vaccine in workplaces is also another issue on which we have been leading the case for employers. The clarity around the circumstances in which mandating vaccination would be lawful and reasonable that has now been provided by the Fair Work Ombudsman is a valuable resource for members thinking of going down that track. We have been helping many members with advice on mandating and one of our own surveys found that more than half of businesses are considering that approach in some form. 

Ai Group members tell me that another of their biggest concerns is the need to rebuild confidence based on consultation, certainty and the consistent application of state-by-state restrictions and requirements. We are taking that message to government and seeking clearer communication on the timing and application of new requirements imposed on businesses.   

Finally, we are talking to governments at all levels on the need for consultation and support for businesses to help us exit COVID successfully with a focus on business recovery initiatives around investment, creating jobs, reskilling and productivity.  

Based on what we saw after restrictions ended last year, if the current progress with vaccinations across the country continues, there is every reason to believe that the December quarter will see a strong economic rebound.

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