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Stores shuttered as lockdown ordered for much of NSW

Faced with a rapidly escalating spread of the new Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus, the NSW State Government on Saturday ordered a two-week stay-at-home order from 6pm through to July 9. 

The order affects Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Wollongong. People may only leave home for essential work, medical care, education or shopping. 

More than 1 million people in downtown Sydney and its eastern suburbs were already under lockdown due to the outbreak, but health authorities told the government the curbs needed to be expanded after more infections were recorded and new exposure sites were identified outside that area. 

“Even though we don’t want to impose burdens unless we absolutely have to, unfortunately, this is a situation where we have to,” NSW state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told a press conference. 

“There was no point doing it for three days or five days because it wouldn’t have done the job.”

Under the new restrictions, people may only leave their home to shop for food or other essential goods and services; for medical care or compassionate needs (including getting a Covid-19 vaccination unless they have been identified as a close contact); exercising outdoors (in groups of 10 or fewer); and for essential work, or education, where it is not feasible to work or study from home.

Employers must allow an employee to work from home if it is reasonably practicable to do so – and those people going to a workplace must wear a mask unless an exemption applies.

It is not yet clear exactly how the state defines “essential goods or services” but based on previous lockdowns it is likely that only supermarkets, grocery stores, and other food retailers may continue to trade, along with pharmacies and pet-supplies stores, with social-distancing conditions inside, and masks mandatory.

ARA “respects decision”

Australian Retailers Association (ARA) CEO Paul Zahra estimated the lockdown would cost NSW retailers around $2 billion in lost trade. But he said the association appreciated the government’s advice that a broader stay-at-home order is now the appropriate action to take given the growing Covid-19 case numbers, despite the bitter blow it would have on business. 

“Whilst the NSW Government has done an admirable job keeping the state economy open throughout the pandemic, the latest outbreak is of great concern, and we respect today’s decision.

“However, we can’t ignore the fact that today’s announcement is a devastating blow for retailers, in particular small businesses who were already struggling due to the ongoing Covid impacts.”

While some retail businesses will be allowed to remain open, with restrictions in place, there simply won’t be the usual number of people out shopping, he said.

“The NSW Government has indicated there will be measures in place from the State and the Commonwealth to support businesses affected by the restrictions. We look forward to seeing those support measures available as soon as possible. Without a safety net like JobKeeper and with consumer confidence severely impacted, many small businesses will be pushed to breaking point.

“The vaccine rollout is critical to ensure we avoid further instances of lockdowns and restrictions.”

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