Dancefloors, QR codes and office mask mandates: What’s changed in Victoria and NSW?

Melbourne business support restrictions

Melbourne's Queen Victoria Market. Source: Unsplash/Linda Xu

COVID-19 restrictions are easing again in Victoria and New South Wales, removing density limits and QR code check-ins for many businesses and reopening dancefloors to boot.

But both states fell short of removing mask mandates in offices — something small businesses have flagged as a key change that would attract trade back to CBDs.

In NSW, that change is set to come into effect next week. In Victoria, frustrated business owners are still waiting for a date.

What’s changing in New South Wales?

In NSW, as of today, there are no longer density limits in place for any businesses.

QR code check-ins will only be required for nightclubs, and for music festivals with more than 1000 attendees.

Singing and dancing is also now allowed at all venues, with the exception of music festivals.

The state government has removed its recommendation for office workers to work from home. Instead, this is now at the employer’s discretion. For another week, however, masks will remain mandatory in indoor workplaces, with some exceptions.

Additional changes are set to come into effect in NSW from next Friday, February 25.

As of that date, masks will no longer be required in most indoor settings.

Notable exceptions to this include public transport; on planes and in airports; and in hospitals, aged care or disability care settings.

Masks will also still be required at indoor music festivals with more than 1000 attendees.

Singing and dancing, however, will once again be allowed again at all music festivals.

The government maintained that masks will still be recommended in indoor settings where people cannot maintain social distancing.

Masks will still be mandated for customer-facing staff in retail settings, while individual state agencies are set to review whether mask mandates will remain for other public-facing staff.

What’s changing in Victoria?

Restrictions are also set to ease in Victoria. From 6pm this evening, density limits in hospitality and entertainment venues will no longer apply. Indoor dance floors will also be able to reopen.

QR check-in code requirements will be removed for retail businesses, as well as in “many other workplaces”.

QR check-ins will also no longer be required in schools or early childcare settings.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the QR codes will remain for businesses that are part of Victoria’s “vaccinated economy”.

That means if customers have to be vaccinated in order to visit the business — for example in restaurants, cafes, pubs or entertainment venues — they will also still have to check in, Andrews explained.

If customers don’t have to be vaccinated in order to visit the premises — for example in supermarkets and retail — they will not have to check in.

The Victorian government has fallen short of easing restrictions for office-based workers, however, with the state Minister for Health Martin Foley set to consider changes here from next week.

The recommendation that Victorians work from home where possible remains, and those who do work from the office are still required to wear face masks.

Mask mandates affecting small businesses in the CBD

While eased density limits and relaxed dance floor rules may come as a relief to some hospitality businesses, for others in Melbourne’s CBD, yesterday’s announcement from the Victorian government didn’t go far enough.

Speaking to SmartCompany, Georgia Mackie, owner of Seedling Cafe on Melbourne’s Flinders Lane, says she’s “disappointed” that the mask rule hasn’t changed for office workers.

For many CBD-based businesses, the density limits are less of an issue than the lack of foot traffic. Over the past two years, her business has only seen a resurgence in business when office workers return — and that happens when mask restrictions in offices are eased.

Melbourne-CBD-seedling-cafe

Georgia Mackie, owner of Melbourne CBD business Seedling Cafe. Source: supplied.

“They sort of talk about normalising the virus, but having those restrictions still in place definitely keeps us feeling abnormal and makes people make different decisions to what they would have prior to the pandemic.”

It’s also frustrating to see other restrictions ease — the distinctions can appear somewhat arbitrary.

“Sitting at your individual desk in an office has got to be less risk than a dance floor,” Mackie notes.

“It just feels like a very slow progression back to normal for us.”

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