The latest New South Wales reopening roadmap puts an end date on the requirement for small businesses to check customers’ vaccine passports.
But there’s still little guidance on how exactly they should do this in the meantime, and where the responsibility lies.
So, while they broadly welcome the new plan, some business owners have been left with more questions than answers.
Yesterday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the state is now on track to hit the 70% double-vaccination threshold on October 11, making that the reopening date for many small businesses, including in the hospitality, beauty and retail sectors.
Sign up for SmartCompany newsletter.
Free to your inbox every weekday
Announcing an updated roadmap to reopening, she said more restrictions will ease from the Monday after 80% of the eligible population has had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, expected to be on October 25. These restrictions will ease slightly for fully vaccinated people only.
However, much will remain the same for businesses at this time.
By December 1, Berejiklian says she hopes the state will be operating at “that COVID normal state”.
That means no mask requirements in most indoor settings, nightclubs opening up, and even the potential of planning international travel.
At that stage, she suggested the state could be at a 90% double-vaccination rate.
Crucially, the rules will be the same for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
For small businesses, the new roadmap puts both a beginning and an end date on the issue of vaccine passports or certificates.
While being able to reopen at all from October 11 is a welcome relief, many small business owners had expressed concern that the responsibility for checking vaccine statues — and turning people away — has landed on business owners and their staff.
The latest announcements have not addressed this concern.
NSW Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello is overseeing the integration of NSW vaccine passports into the Service NSW app, which will ultimately show a customer’s vaccination status when they check in using a QR code.
Earlier this week, he reportedly said the app will likely be ready to pilot in regional NSW by October 6. That means it will probably not be ready for a wider rollout by October 11.
Dominello urged businesses to take “reasonable steps” to be compliant with the rules regarding vaccine certificates.
“They just can’t turn a blind eye.”
However, he also acknowledged the issues with asking small businesses to enforce public health restrictions.
“Businesses have done it really tough … we can’t expect them to be law enforcement agencies as well,” he said.
While businesses may face fines of up to $55,000 for failing to comply, he suggested the focus would be on individuals doing the wrong thing.
“If they get found out … it could be jail time there,” he reportedly said.
A welcome end date to the vaccine debacle
Speaking to SmartCompany, Emily Swift, co-owner of Orange-based Printhie Wines, says having December 1 to work towards is a positive development.
“It will certainly reduce workload and angst that we no longer have to act as bouncers from December 1,” she says.
“Knowing it is for a limited time certainly helps the situation and will help with our responses to customers.”
That said, the roadmap still leaves her and her team with unanswered questions. What happens if there is a confirmed case at the cellar door, for example? Will the business have to close down for two weeks?
With more people moving about again, she’s concerned that this could be a fairly common occurrence. And for a small business, it could be hugely damaging.
“We’re very keen to get greater insights into how this will be handled,” she explains.
“On the whole we’re thankful to have a roadmap but to be honest we still have more questions than answers.”
Elsewhere, Jon Burrel, founder and chief executive of camping store chain Tentworld, says the December 1 target is “better than nothing”.
“But it still feels a very long way away.”
The Christmas period is incredibly busy for the business, he notes. So, one less requirement for his staff can only be a good thing. The change in vaccine restrictions as well as mask restrictions also means they’re likely to be faced with less confrontation from customers.
While he’s “definitely” happy to see this development, with rules and roadmaps subject to change, he’s not getting too far ahead of himself yet.
“We’ll wait and see if that’s actually what happens,” he says.
Other businesses have chosen not to reopen at all in the interim.
Last week, Sydney cafe Bare Wholefoods made headlines after its owner declared the business would stay closed until it can welcome both vaccinated and unvaccinated guests.
“I want everyone to feel welcome at all times and I will never put profit before people,” owner Anthony Milotic said in an open letter on Instagram.
“Choosing love, accepting differences and a community in unity is what we need right now.”
View this post on Instagram
What’s changing for NSW businesses from October 25 (or the first Monday after NSW reaches 80% double-vaccination rates)
For businesses in hospitality, retail and fitness, things will remain largely the same, as will the rules for indoor and outdoor events and entertainment.
For businesses in the hair and beauty sector, it is understood that the limit of five customers per premises will lift. These businesses will still only be able to accept fully vaccinated customers, and adhere to capacity limits of one person per four square metres.
Travel will be unrestricted between Greater Sydney and Regional NSW. Caravan parks and camping grounds will remain open, including to people who are not fully vaccinated.
However, as of yet there are no guidelines regarding hotels and other accommodation providers.
Masks will also remain mandatory indoors for everyone aged 12 and over, and hospitality staff will still have to wear a mask while serving indoors and outdoors.
For office-based businesses, employees who are fully vaccinated may return to the office, if they wish. However, employers cannot require them to.
What’s changing for businesses from December 1?
From December 1, the same rules will apply to all customers, regardless of their vaccination status.
For retail, hair and beauty businesses, the density capacity will change from one person per four square metres to one person per two square metres.
For hospitality businesses, that new density requirement also applies, and customers will no longer have to be seated when eating or drinking.
The new density restriction will also apply to fitness studios and gyms, with no limit on class size.
The density requirement of one person per two square metres will also apply in outdoor entertainment venues such as stadiums, theme parks and zoos. It is understood there will be no cap on customer numbers.
The same also applies to indoor venues such as cinemas, theatres and music halls.
Finally, night clubs will be able to reopen with density limits of one person per four square metres.
Masks will no longer be required outdoors, or in all indoor settings. They will be required for front-of-house hospitality workers, and on public transport.
Working from home will be at the employer’s discretion.