We asked the Mayor of Hepburn Shire, Licia Kokocinski how the Council felt the businesses and communities within the Shire were coping with the Covid-19 lockdown. She said, “The impact has been very mixed across three sectors – farming, tourism and retail and because retail is divided between two sectors, tourism and local, the impact has been very mixed.”
According to Ms Kokocinski, farming has been affected in varying ways. Covid-19 came in right on harvest time, especially potatoes, which meant adjustments were needed in dealing with the harvest. Other farmers experienced problems with the supply chain and travel restrictions. Because winter is the down time, farmers take advantage of this to work on their farm maintenance, but it has been difficult to in some cases to obtain equipment.
Ms Kokicinski went on to say that the biggest hit to business in the Shire was to tourism and hospitality. “For retailers, the impact was mixed. Those who target tourists were hit the hardest,” she said “but retailers who have done the best are those that catered to the local market. Essential services kept going, albeit to limited capacity and they managed well”.
Asked about hospitality and the tourism sector, Ms Kokicinski said “As soon as it was announced that restrictions were easing, we noticed a large increase in visitor numbers to our towns, particularly Daylesford. There was a resurgence in day trippers and overnight stays and the cafes were well attended, which gives everyone a boost, but it raises concerns about social distancing”.
The Shire is vigilant in following the Victorian Government’s expert advice in adhering to the guidelines for protecting the community as much as possible. The Shire will soon be employing additional staff to clean and maintain public property and funding has allowed for the hiring thirty three people to undertake these duties, both indoor and outdoor.
Ms Kokicinski also said that it is noticeable that locals are shopping locally more often and avoiding the larger centres. “We are looking at the relaxation of restrictions very cautiously. We’re confident that the community is following the rules and hope that visitors do the same” she said.
“We are concerned about the long term impact, especially with the change to work habits,” adding. “Working from home can be difficult for families and the ‘new normal’ is taking a physical and emotional toll. The other issue for working from home is that internet connections in some areas are unreliable.”
“Like everyone, we just have to see where it all leads. It is a very difficult time, but people are getting on with life as best they can,” Ms Kocicinski said.