CORONAVIRUS COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Construction in doubt as Melbourne enters stage 4

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WORK across Victoria’s building, construction and development sites could grind to a halt this week under stage four lockdown.

Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday declared a state of disaster for Victoria and announced heightened restrictions from 6PM Sunday night for the next six weeks until September 13. Regional Victoria will move to stage 3 restrictions from Thursday.

As of Sunday, there are 11,557 coronavirus cases, an increase of 671. The government is particularly concerned of the 760 mystery community cases, where the source of infection cannot be traced.

Under stage four, only essential services such as supermarket, pharmacies, medical centres, and petrol stations will be allowed to operate, along with cafes and restaurants which are currently only open for take-away and delivery. Most retailers will be forced to shutter.

However, other industries face uncertainty with the government to reveal which workplaces will remain open or be forced to close. Andrews said in the coming days the government will announce the details.

If it is mirrored on the New Zealand style stage four lockdown, the building and construction industry, currently one of the few workplaces still operating during the pandemic, will likely shut down.

The construction sector is a key part of the government’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan. Planning Minister Richard Wynne has approved over 91 planning permits for projects with a combined value of more than $6 billion since March.

The property industry and CFMEU are advocating to keep the construction industry open. In a joint letter, they said the value of construction work undertaken per annum in Victoria is over $57 billion, representing almost 13% of the state’s Gross State Product and accounting for over 45% of tax revenue. Construction employs nearly 1 in 10 workers in Victoria, this is approximately 300,000 people in full and part-time positions in over 200,000 businesses.

“As the pandemic has progressed in Victoria, the building, construction and development industry has recorded a job loss of around 8,300 or 3% decline from the first quarter of 2020. The strain on the industry is also evident as residential building approvals declined by nearly 15% in the June quarter, with the greatest falls being in multi-unit approvals. Whilst forecasts still predict a reasonable pipeline of activity across our industry, it is expected to reduce by over $6 billion, with more than $2 billion in lost tax revenue for the state,” they warned.

The real estate sector could also be impacted. Currently, the sale of residential property via auction will be conducted remotely and inspections by private appointment only, but that could change with private inspections likely to be barred.

Meanwhile the premier said the current rules have avoided thousands and thousands of cases each day and then thousands of people in hospital and many more tragedies than the state has seen.

“But it is not working fast enough. And there’s a number of different reasons for that.

“But after a lot of hard work and detailed analysis, our public health experts, as well as them speaking with their federal counterparts and I’m sure interstate colleagues as well, they have provided advice to me that says if we were to pursue this strategy with a view to driving down numbers to a very low containable level where we could reopen, it would likely be the end of the year before we were able to reopen.

“That’s a 6-month strategy that is simply not going to work. Six weeks versus a slower strategy… I’m not prepared to accept that or accept days and days and days of hundreds of cases and more and more death,”

Andrews added that the state needs to “go hard and go further” to curb the spread.

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