Special Message by our Chair, Dr Rob Lang
Tasked with the job of assessing the immediate impact of COVID-19, on April 7 2020, ABS released a statement issuing the dire news that “two thirds (66%) of Australian businesses reported that their turnover or cash flow had reduced as a result of COVID-19 and nearly half (47%) of businesses made changes to their workforce arrangements as a result of COVID-19”.
The long-term impact is currently unknown and will continue to be debated for many months as data collection agencies and governments around the world scramble to construct and deconstruct economic models and pull apart crystal ball forecasts and predictions.
What we do know of course is that many industries have taken a huge hit and some sectors will struggle to come back. It is however encouraging to see examples of local communities and businesses pulling together and helping the other in the face of disruption.
Through the haze of uncertainty we see that there is a lot of creative thinking and positivity. Makes one wonder if one day COVID-19 will be viewed as a catalyst, leaving in its wake a wave of “Creative Destruction” as the following examples illustrate.
Wine and Dine
Despite major supermarkets enjoying record sales of toilet paper, tin tomatoes, flour and spaghetti, a scan of local villages and shopping plazas quickly reveals that many SMEs are doing it tough. Retail, hospitality and personal services, to name just a few, have been hard hit.
However, with assistance from local governments including commercial rent relief, and temporary fee waivers, many cafes and food and beverage operations have reconfigured their shop fronts to create contactless operations. This has enabled their businesses to keep running and judging by patronage they are proving to be popular with locals and we can see a notable rise in the number of rapid shop-front conversions.
Many venues and restaurants responded by offering in-home “quality dinner experience”. For example, Biviano’s in Dural, an upmarket venue is offering restaurant quality take-out services.
Atlas Masterclass was quick off the block to offer online cooking classes coupled with restaurant quality ingredient boxes assembled under the guidance of top chef Charlie Carrington, and to the delight of his customers, is showcasing affordable international cuisine!
Retail online sales are also increasing, and this trend is set to continue. The Urban Developer reported that “online food sales and retail is expected to grow by more than $2 billion over 2020, feeding Australia’s appetite for meal and grocery delivery during the Covid-19 pandemic”.
Fresh food provedores are also looking beyond their traditional supply chains and are appealing directly to consumers.
Exercise and Wellness
And whilst consumer spend on gym memberships and sporting endeavours is down sales of personal exercise equipment is on the rise as is the number of personal trainers and exercise enthusiasts who are regularly spotted training in our parks and urban green spaces.
Demand for wellness streaming services and on-line physical exercise programs including yoga and meditation are gaining popularity as home-based workers try to balance their time between work, home, play and relaxation.
With a flurry of public health notifications and “how-to-access” government support services it is easy to lose count of the number of daily updates and invitations. That said, it is comforting to know that there is a plethora of “life-support” channels offering stressbusters, wellness programs, boundary setting and balancing work and home life.
A big shout out must go to our very talented performing artists who have shared their homebased recording studios and rehearsal spaces, and in doing so have picked up a vast array of new supporters. This includes the Australian Chamber Orchestra which has generously broadcasted free content.
Let’s not forget our art and cultural institutions, many of which have very quickly turned the cameras on their own collections and are offering virtual tours of their gallery halls and priceless artifacts.
Taronga Zoo for the first time in its history is streaming Taronga TV. What a great time to take a peek inside animal enclosures.
Hats off to those agile industries and their staff who have been able to ‘pivot’ their manufacturing plants and mobilise their 3D printers to make much needed medical supplies such as face masks and ventilator parts and who would have thought our gin distillers and brewers could turn the taps around and create a vat of hand sanitiser?
Kurnell based company Stageking, makers of pop-up stages and events scenery, was quick to diversify its product base and manufacture portable home office desks selling more than 1000 units within the first week; a result of innovative thinking.
“Bounce back and snap-back”
The recently announced economic stimulus, wage subsidies and income support programs confirm we are moving in the right direction.
To date Australia has performed well as all tiers of government work together and industry leaders and the business community innovate and craft solutions to steer the country forward.
At the beginning of this crisis we saw some examples of the very worst of human behaviour as people fought over supermarket goods but now as the population is getting accustomed to this very strange new normal we are starting to witness some very fine acts of kindness.
Local councils and community groups continue to keep an eye out for our most vulnerable and the now familiar Community Connect Cards reinforce good will among our neighbours.
In Guns, Germs and Steel: The fates of Human Societies, Jarod Diamond, vividly described the impact of these three factors on the development of human societies. COVID-19 reminds us of the havoc and destruction of exotic and harmful microbes; we hope that human ingenuity will create the tools pronto to overcome the “invisible enemy”.
And whilst we might disagree over start dates for the NRL and our National Anthem let’s face it we live in a great country. We give thanks to our doctors, nurses, carers, their support teams and all essential workers who are keeping this lucky country ticking over.