Spring is upon us and like so many Victorians, especially those living in our regions, I was hopeful we would be on track to enter the season of new beginnings with a fresh start; no lockdowns and with Victorians back to doing the things we love.

We were on track, but how quickly things can change.

The weekend’s sudden lockdown across Regional Victoria with less than two hours’ notice left many businesses blindsided and further dented confidence.

There were weddings, functions and parties that had to be called off at the 11th hour, costing some businesses in excess of tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention the emotional toll that came with every cancellation. A lot of regional businesses were already doing it tough due to a lack of visitation from metropolitan areas, so the harsh reality is that the last-minute lockdown will unfortunately be the final straw for some. I know it’s also difficult to understand that there are many regional Local Government Areas where there is no virus, yet they are still subjected to the same lockdown conditions.

Amid the frustration and concern, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry was pleased by the prompt announcement of a further $146.6 million in support from the state and federal governments, to help regional businesses get through the lockdown six extension and continue the recovery from lockdowns four and five.

Significant allocations have been made to the Business Costs Assistance Program (BCAP), Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund and the Alpine Resorts Winter Support Program, with more than 20,000 businesses expected to receive automatic payments, which we hope makes the burden a little easier to bear.

The Victorian Chamber encourages regional businesses that have not qualified in the past and have experienced a reduction in revenue of at least 70 per cent to apply for the $252 million Small Business COVID Hardship fund, which provides grants of $14,000 to eligible applicants. Off the back of member feedback, the Chamber was instrumental in driving the need for Government to create this fund. The BCAP eligibility criteria was too narrow and showed that businesses who were genuinely suffering were slipping through the cracks. The Government, to their credit, has listened and acted.

This lockdown is probably the hardest, with many of us now knowing someone directly who is dealing with mental health issues. Please help them where you can. It’s also really hard on our children who have been unable to enjoy all the benefits that school and catching up with friends bring. I’m hoping this is the last lockdown we will endure, as the end is much closer than the beginning now.

As reiterated by both the Prime Minister and Premier this week, the way out is vaccination – so let’s drive those numbers up across the state over the next two weeks and lead the country in vaccinated people. That’s how all Victorians can play their part so we can open up again.

We will continue to advocate for a more consistent solution to lockdowns and a more targeted response to avoid impacting towns that are yet to see the virus. There is a light on the hill and I hope you can all find a way through until we reach it.

I talk to friends in the US and Europe every week and I’m very envious of the way they are now able to go about their daily lives.

Please stay positive, get vaccinated if you can, look after each other and get ready to restart quickly once we get that chance; 70 per cent and then 80 per cent aren’t far away now, so let’s do what we can to accelerate to that level!

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra.