The good news is that the entire situation this time around is different to this time last year. However, unfortunately this virus is going to continue having significant impacts on us all – both individually, and at a business level.
Learning to live with COVID-19 and emerging strains has continued to test us at every turn and our ability to adapt, respond and grow, regardless of the evolving changes to testing and isolating in an environment where restrictions are still (rightly) minimised again proves Victorians are resilient.
This year ahead is going to present a new raft of unique challenges and there are four main business impacts we will need to consider when making our plans:
Firstly, there are staff shortage across all industries. It is not going to get any easier as COVID-19 continues sweeping through and it won’t be resolved until our international visitor numbers return to viable levels. Students, skilled visa workers and backpackers make up a significant part of the workforce and we are missing them dearly.
We are in a global battle to attract them back to our shores. Adding to this shortage is the isolation requirements for those who contract COVID-19 and those who are considered close contacts. This latter group is substantial which is impacting many businesses, particularly those in regional Victoria.
In the absence of widespread availability and affordability of rapid rests, and the current extended wait times to get PCR test results back, there are potentially thousands of people currently in isolation who needn’t be.
Secondly, the supply chain shortages are starting to really hit. We all experienced some of the international issues last year, but it has now compounded to impact domestically as we start to see supermarket shelves emptier than before. If business can’t get stock, they can’t sell it, and that is a major impediment to making money.
The third impact will be the two elections we face as Victorians this year, being a Federal election (most likely in May), and the State election in November. Traditionally, elections have slowed the economy for a period, but we hope that won’t be the case this time.
And finally, the fourth impact becomes apparent as we look across to Europe and to the USA experiencing the renewed impacts of winter. The combination of COVID-19 and the flu is causing havoc on their hospital systems and we cannot allow this to be underestimated here. It’s not just about bed availability; it’s about healthcare staff numbers too, and we need to get prepared now.
So with that background, what can we do to keep business moving despite the expected turbulence?
Let’s keep encouraging the governments by supporting their efforts to minimise restrictions and lessen isolation requirements. This can be done if everyone plays their part in observing them and doing the right thing. If you’re feeling unwell, get tested and stay home. It’s that simple.
Let’s go and get our booster shots. The benefits of vaccination are clear, and the system is working. Victorians love a trifecta, so do your bit and get the three shots!
Let’s embrace the use of rapid tests. The current shortage will be eased soon, so let’s use the tests for peace of mind if in doubt. Rapid tests will continue to play greater roles as we move forwards, including for entry into events, and I think we can all agree that the minor inconvenience of having to arrive at a venue earlier to go through this system is worth being able to attend in person.
Let’s start thinking about how we manage staff returning to the office. It’s unwise to have everyone return together and taking steps such as separating teams into smaller groups will be a useful mitigation. I think this will be the year that we really develop the hybrid working situation between home and office and find the best, healthy balance for employer and employee.
Take a break when you can. It has been a rough 23 months, and this year’s holiday break probably hasn’t gone to plan for most of us. There is anxiety everywhere, and it’s having an impact on all of us.
Where you can, lend a hand. Buy something local and be nice to staff. Exercise a bit of patience as while service may fall short of perfect, everyone is doing their best.
Finally, don’t put others at risk. If you have COVID-19, isolate for the days required. We are hoping to see the isolation periods shortened further to where the U.S. is now at, but there is a clear reason for isolation, so please follow the rules.
I suspect 2022 will be another bumpy ride. My best guess is that we have at least another winter to run on COVID-19 impacts, so let’s prepare ourselves properly for those. We are much more educated and advanced now than where we were this time last year, and that is starting to build the foundations of confidence.
We are Victorians, and COVID-19 will not beat us. Regardless of the challenges that will come, I’m looking forward to the year ahead, as I know we live in the best state in the best country in the world.
This piece was published in the Herald Sun on 7 January 2022.