Construction in Victoria, the second-smallest state in Australia, has been forced into a sudden two-week shutdown over COVID-19 concerns, an anticipated costly move for the industry. 

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Victorian government implemented the policy on Monday, Sept. 20.

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said as of the beginning of this week, 403 new infections have been linked to the construction industry, involving 186 building sites in the area.

The policy came out after aggressive anti-vaccination and lockdown protests across the Victorian capital city of Melbourne’s Central Business District over the past few days. 

The demonstrations turned violent as police forces and protestors clashed.

Strict lockdown rules had left people who did not oppose vaccines or other COVID-19 policies frustrated.

According to The Guardian, Rebecca Casson, the Master Builders Association of Victoria’s chief executive, said it was a “bitter blow” to the vaccinated workers. 

“We understand the position the Victorian government is in,” Casson said. “However, we can also see the frustration that this decision brings, especially shutting down our industry one day after announcing a roadmap to COVID-normal.”

In Victoria, the building and construction sector is the state’s fourth-largest earner, contributes 46% of the state’s tax revenue, and employs over 320,000 people.

“We have fought tirelessly since the beginning of the pandemic to keep our industry safe and open,” Casson stated. “However, our industry’s right to continue to work comes with significant responsibilities. And it’s disappointing that a minority of our sector has not taken this obligation seriously enough.”

According to the news agency, the sector is expected to lose about $6 billion over the two-week shutdown. 

Tony D’Andrea, who owns a construction company in Seymour, in the Mitchell Shire told ABC Australia that the policy had left him “frustrated beyond belief.”

“The way that it was announced—and the timing of it last night—was frustrating,” he said. “We’ve all done the right thing. [We have] worn masks, QR coded into work, social-distanced and we still get punished for the actions of a minority.”

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott lobbied for the government to lift the mandate quickly as more people were vaccinated.

“Harsh restrictions don’t just have a monumental economic cost, every day we delay a safe reopening takes a serious toll on community cohesion and our social wellbeing,” Westacott said.

Foley said that 73.4% of the Victorian population aged 16 and over had received their first vaccine dose, and the fully vaccinated accounted for 44.4%.

Hospitals in the state had admitted 241 COVID-19 patients, including 60 in intensive care and 39 requiring ventilators. 

Of the 60, 85% were unvaccinated, 13% were partially vaccinated, and the remaining proportion was fully immunized, Foley added.

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