Amidst a surge in COVID-19 cases that is seeing under 40s in hospital and people dying, all while shops are still open, I really have to wonder why the fuck we don’t have a JobKeeper scheme in Sydney yet?

NSW recorded 112 new COVID-19 cases in the community overnight, making today the worst day of the current Sydney outbreak yet. So far we know 34 of those cases were infectious in the community, while 12 only isolated for part of their infectious period.

Just a couple of days ago, the media went wild with reports of a positive case spending 11 hours in IKEA Tempe, with many mocking the individual for being ‘selfish’.

It was later reported by the Daily Mail that the IKEA case was a worker. Surprise!

This seemed obvious to me from the start, and I think the response to this worker has been incredibly unfair. Who else would be spending time in an IKEA from open to close in the midst of a pandemic? Say what you will about people flouting restrictions and not taking the pandemic seriously, but 11 hours is a very long time to remain in one store. Especially in today’s climate.

A huge chunk of the ever-expanding list of NSW exposure sites is made up of shops and food places, which makes me think it’s people who work in retail (like I did in last year’s COVID wave) that are most likely to come across positive cases, just by virtue of being some of the few people that are out and about during Sydney’s stay at home orders.

The IKEA worker who was in store while infectious led to over 2000 people being named close contacts. All of those people were told to quarantine immediately, regardless of positive test results. And right now, it’s not reported how many others tested positive because of contact with that staff member. Imagine if that individual had JobKeeper, and could have stayed at home?

It’s situations like these that scream the need for JobKeeper. If we had a JobKeeper payment, non-essential shops would actually have an incentive to close their doors, and workers would have the financial safety net to allow themselves a day off to get tested if they feel ill. Or better yet, not have to work at all.

For those that work in retail and live precariously or pay cheque to pay cheque, I can see how health can be dismissed as a priority – when I worked in retail last year, I can’t say for sure if I would have taken small cold symptoms seriously if it meant losing money that I needed.

People are dying in Sydney. An increasing amount of young people are testing positive. With a JobKeeper scheme, more people would be able to stay home – and maybe that would save lives. So what the fuck are we waiting for?