By now, if it hasn’t happened to us personally, we all know someone who is COVID positive or a close contact experiencing isolation. We have all heard stories about the supply of Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT), the long and slow queues for PCR tests, and results arriving late or in some cases not arriving at all.
There have also been positive stories about the follow-up service from Queensland Health, local support networks, and shopping options such as click and collect.
As this latest outbreak takes its toll, we can see the flow-on effects of food and medical supply delays on the viability of local businesses in West End.
Innovating to keep afloat
Each day on social media, hospitality venues announce changes to opening hours and temporary closures. Some fear the impacts may be permanent and are forced to innovate to keep afloat.
In a heartfelt message to her customers, Wandering Cooks proprietor Angela Hirst said: “Sorry, we are trading on one leg”. While the kitchen is closed, Wandering Cooks is inviting patrons to bring their own food or takeaways and enjoy their meal with friends in their garden bar area.
Micks Nuts is offering dial up and online ordering and will pop your order in your boot if you arrange to collect.
Fiona Stager of Avid Reader is offering to post care packages to people in isolation.
“We know many households who are in isolation and we have been sending care packages around Australia. Feel free to phone us and we can put together a gift box and post it for you. We’ll even throw in a couple of free chocolates! It’s the small acts of kindness that will help us all.”
President of the West End Traders Association, Peter Marinelli, says local businesses are struggling with staffing and product shortage. He also thinks Governments are failing small business this time around.
“It’s just a chain reaction. We need to see the State and Federal Governments step up again, like they did last year, to help small businesses. There’s no JobKeeper now, there’s no BAS relief. This needs to happen.”
Mr Marinelli said difficulties that have come with COVID will not go away in two or three weeks, and possibly not for the next two or three months, if there is no support for all levels of businesses.
“It’s unfortunate, because the landlords have done everything they can, but they’re not getting assistance from the banks anymore.”
George Fotinos from Terry White Chemart in West End is frustrated by the lack of vaccine supplies and Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT).
He said bringing forward the booster shots has added pressure to their service and the online booking app is at capacity. One of the critical issues at the moment, he said, is supply delays due to transport limitations.
George thinks the Government should have ensured adequate stocks were in place before opening borders.
He is also frustrated that a community website, no doubt well-intentioned, had reported that his pharmacy had RAT supplies last weekend. They did not have stock but still had to field the calls.
“Our phone was running hot on the weekend. I think these sites should be managed better,” George said.
Lists of medical supplies for ‘isolation kits’ suggested by Government agencies and others are also creating supply issues.
“The supply lists have created panic buying and we’re running out of supplies.”
People are buying up extra supplies of paracetamol and even oximeters.
Finding pharmacists or pharmacy assistants to staff the shop is also becoming a struggle George said. However, he assured me that people can continue to order their usual medications, and there were no supply issues for them.
“If someone is house bound, they will have to make other arrangements. We deliver to those in close proximity if we can. Ideally if you can find a neighbour or a friend or someone to pop in to pick your script up, that will certainly ease our workload a bit. There’s only so much we can do.”
“We’re trying to help the very elderly. I was delivering until 10.00 pm the other night, so it’s pretty full-on.”
“We’re getting burnt out, this is full on, with the phones running hot. Everyone’s ringing up for access.”
You can book vaccinations on the Terry White website and of course via other Chemists, your GP and other private and public clinics. See links at end for details.
Hospitality and local business
Small business owner, Kaz Kelly of Doggy Day Care said she has found the start of the year “exhausting, stressful and emotional”.
“We are all fatigued by Covid-19 and now it seems we are only at the beginning. As a small business owner it feels like the roller-coaster never ends. Just when you think you have made it through there is another hurdle to overcome.
Kaz said that trying to manage staff is hard amid the maze of changing information and mixed messages.
“Someone at a PCR testing facility saying one thing, an email to me from Department of Small Business saying another. It’s difficult to get everyone on the same page at the best of times in a business, let alone now.”
The impact on local cafes and bars seems to be random – some have been hit hard, while others are providing business as usual.
Walking along Vulture Street earlier this week, I noticed several cafes were full. The fruit shop, the bakery, and some Boundary Street cafes were open and appeared to be well supplied.
Nicolas from The Morning After said his café on Vulture Street is managing with just one staff member having to isolate this time.
“We’ve opened up for normal hours, until we get cases – you just never know what will come through the door. But so far, so good. You’ve just got to take it as it comes.”
Nicolas said The Morning After was one of the many businesses supported by JobKeeper during the last lockdown.
“We struggled for three months but after that we kind of got back to normal.”
Back then, the café did have a positive case and was listed as a hotspot, and although they undertook the required deep cleaning, Nicolas said business dropped off for a couple of months.
With this new Omicron wave and high vaccination rates, things have changed significantly. While this must be a relief to businesses, the loss of staff deemed close contacts or positive for COVID can be crippling.
Nicolas said hospitality is particularly vulnerable.
“If people are scared and not coming in, it’s going to affect us. We have all the right things in place, so hopefully people will not be afraid to come out.”
Community Services and Support
Andrew at West End Community House said to be safe and cautious, the service is operating much as it did during the official lockdown last year.
The service is staffed from 9.00 am until 11.00 am and will help people who turn up by linking them to the appropriate agencies or helping out with supplies or meals from the community pantry.
“I’m still answering the phone until about I.00pm to 2.00pm, and trying to help with information and referrals and to organise other times when people can get food.”
Andrew said WECH has good supply in the pantry but could do with some toilet paper, long-life milk, canned fruit, and other non-perishables. Soap and shampoo, and other toiletries are always welcome.
“People are welcome and encouraged to put stuff into our community pantry and community fridge that sit in the driveway,” Andrew said.
Bec Baker has recently revived South Brisbane Community Helpers, a support service she set up during the first lockdowns. She told me that people seem more prepared this time.
Bec and her helpers will shop for and deliver food and supply books and games if needed to keep children and adults occupied. Recently, Stone and Brew Pizza on Gladstone Road supplied some free pizzas which Bec and crew delivered to people in isolation.
HOW TO HELP
Services like these also need community volunteers, so if you can help out, let Bec know via the Facebook site or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Bec currently needs help to deliver flyers, for example.
The State Government’s Care Army is still actively providing support, and if you want to volunteer, see the link here: https://volunteeringqld.org.au/volunteers/care-army
Support local business
Some think Governments have left us to our own devices, and it is now up to us to pick up the pieces – certainly the local businesses we love need our custom and support.
‘Everybody needs to step up a little bit and respect local businesses by wearing a mask when they go into the store, and by checking-in. Because everyone needs to survive. It’s not just supporting businesses but supporting what needs to be done to keep everybody safe,” Peter Marinelli said.
Health directions are changing daily so we will not attempt to summarise the latest requirements here. If you are looking for information and support, this State Government site is helpful and best placed to have the most up-to-date information: https://www.qld.gov.au/health/conditions/health-alerts/coronavirus-covid-19/support-and-resources/support
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service (ATSICHS) Brisbane provides advise and support here: https://atsichsbrisbane.org.au/services/health-wellbeing/covid19-support/
For small business operators needing mental health support, Beyond Blue offers support for small business owner or sole trader through NewAccess. The program is designed to give people the support they need to manage stress and get back to feeling like themselves.
Cover image taken from post by Wandering Cooks