Unfortunately if the viability of a practice is compromised so will be the wages they can offer. I fear there will be redundancies of employed Optometrists in situations where the numbers no longer stack up and then a much lower level of wage will be on offer. So in short I agree optics has been driven into the ground and covid is one of the final nails in the coffin.
I’ve written to the AOP pointing out the non viability of the business model going forward under covid conditions, and that to prevent large numbers going out of business they need to have a complete renegotiation with the NHS such that Optometrists and qualified dispensers are properly remunerated and given a NHS pension without reliance on the age old cross subsidy from sales, which was a historically very poor decision taken by a previous generation and no longer works. If you agree I suggest you do the same and also write to your MP.
In the meantime I would not recommend anybody to study optics and if you can change career do.Then at some point in the future when there is a shortage of our skills we may be valued again. The country will get the the opticians it deserves, in short you get what you pay for.