Brisbane’s CBD and several of the state’s tourism hotspots are becoming ghost towns as stricter social-distancing measures and coronavirus concerns prompt normally bustling business hubs and public spaces to empty.
Lena Frisca has run her own bakery in Brisbane Post Office Square for 20 years.
Lena Frisca (left) has owned Lena’s Bakehouse in Brisbane’s Post Office Square for 20 years. (ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh )
She survived the 2011 floods and the global financial crisis but thinks coronavirus might mark the end of her business.
“I’ve never seen it this quiet,” Ms Frisca said.
Brisbane’s Streets Beach in South Bank is closed to avoid spreading the virus. (ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh)
Fewer people on the streets, trains and buses make it easier to get around the city but the dwindling population has crushed the business owners who rely on office catering and foot traffic.
“We’re seeing stores shut, people are wishing us good luck and telling us they are not in tomorrow or next week, we are seeing a lot of people working from home,” Ms Frisca said.
“It’s getting quieter and quieter. We can’t survive at all with the current numbers.
“It’s very frighting and I just don’t know what to do. This is just the end of the world.”
Surfers Paradise is a ghost town after new social-distancing measures were announced from midday Monday, March 23. (Supplied: Jono Langsammer )
With more than 400 cases of COVID-19 in Queensland and a significant increase expected, normally bustling spots like Brisbane’s South Bank and Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast are largely deserted.
The tropical tourism drawcard of the Cairns Esplanade is normally scattered with businesses and restaurants filled with visitors, but it too has been abandoned.
Surfers Paradise was empty on Monday afternoon after new social-distancing measures were announced. (Supplied: Jono Langsammer )
New public health measures announced by the Federal Government mean Australia’s bars, gyms, churches and cinemas have been forced to close, causing many workplaces in busy business districts to tell staff to stay home to help curb the spread of the virus.
The tourist city of Cairns in far north Queensland is becoming a ghost town as tourism businesses shut their doors due to the virus. (ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter )
Drop in commuters may close stores
The increased safety measures have meant those who rely on CBD foot traffic like Rama Madala and his wife Lakshmi are struggling.
The pair are familiar faces for commuters in Brisbane, having operated SupaNews in Central Station for 12 years.
Newsagent owner Rama Madala has a business at Central Station in Brisbane and relies on commuters to survive. (ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh
“Business has more than halved,” Mr Madala said.
“Usually we serve around 300 people, we served 155 on Monday and [on Tuesday] less than 100.
“The city is going to be hit really hard.
“We are a family business, it’s just myself and my wife and we have to pay the bills at home, so even if we can make $100 after paying the rent, we’ll come in.”
As bars called last drinks at midday on Monday with the closure of non-essential services, Brisbane residents rushed to the Normanby Hotel which opened its cellar and dropped alcohol prices to sell as much stock as possible.
About 35 casual staff at the hotel lost their jobs and it’s one of several CBD venues forced to let workers go.
Newsagents, coffee carts, fruit stalls and convenience stores in public transport hubs are suffering as commuter numbers dwindle. (ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh)
With the rate of infections expected to rapidly increase in coming weeks, leading to greater social-distancing measures, Mr Madala said he feared cities won’t return to normal for several months.
“Unless things get back to normal the business isn’t going to survive, if it takes six months a lot of businesses will go under,” he said.
The Queensland Government earlier this week announced it would extend tax breaks for small to medium-sized businesses to help prevent significant job losses in the coming weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic as part of a new $4 billion response package.
Theme park staff have lost their jobs as popular attractions like Movie World close. (ABC Gold Coast: Sarah Cumming)
“Anything the government can do that is real savings as opposed to a loan is better, especially for small and micro businesses,” consumer psychology expert Professor Jane Summers from the University of Southern Queensland said.
“I don’t think we can underestimate the impact this is having and will continue to have on businesses, it’s devasting and some won’t be able to come back from it,” she said.
“I’d suggest businesses that are able to, use this time to look at your strategic plan, talk about what you’ll do when this passes and what this has taught you about the business. There is value in introspection, planning and future thinking.”