“The onus has landed on us”: NSW small business owners torn on reopening roadmap

Emily Swift of Printhie Wines. Source: supplied.

Small business owners in New South Wales have broadly welcomed the state government’s reopening roadmap, but there are concerns about how they will ensure they are only serving customers who are fully vaccinated, and the additional pressure this could place on business owners and their staff.

While SMEs welcome the idea of re-opening to only vaccinated clients, in theory, it’s not clear how it will work in practice. And it appears the responsibility will lie with the businesses themselves.

“We do feel like the onus has landed on us,” Emily Swift, co-owner of Orange-based Printhie Wines tells SmartCompany.

“We don’t necessarily have the skills or training in place to deal with that.”

Under the new roadmap, announced yesterday, stay-at-home orders will start to ease for NSW residents who are fully vaccinated against COVD-19, once 70% of the population has had both jabs.

The roadmap could still change if the number of cases remain high, or if circumstances change dramatically, however, as it stands, the new rules will come into effect the Monday after the state passes the 70% vaccination threshold. Current projections suggest restrictions could start to ease from October 18.

Under the relaxed rules, hospitality and retail businesses will be able to re-open to fully vaccinated customers, and those with medical exemptions, subject to density limits.

Hairdressers and beauty salons will be able to open to up to five people per premises, subject to density limits, and gyms will be able to reopen, again subject to density limits.

Indoor entertainment venues such as cinemas, theatres and galleries will be able to open with a capacity of one person per four square metres, with a maximum of 75 seated guests.

Domestic travel, including trips from Sydney to regional NSW, will be allowed for fully vaccinated people, or those with a medical exemption, with caravan parks and camping grounds also set to re-open.

While having a date to work towards is undoubtedly a boon for business owners all over the state, there are questions around how to police whether patrons are fully vaccinated or not.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian seemed to suggest the onus would be on businesses to let customers in or turn them away, based on the existing QR-code chick-in system.

“If you want to go and buy something which is regarded as a non-essential shop, you will put up the QR code and if it is not a green light saying you have been vaccinated, you won’t be welcome inside,” she said.

“We are giving venues plenty of notice and businesses plenty of notice, they can prepare for what that looks like,” she added.

Potential for conflict

Speaking to SmartCompany, Jon Burrell, director of national camping chain Tentworld, says the announcement was welcome, particularly for Sydney retail stores.

However, he is still “nervous” about managing check ins.

Currently, Tentworld staff are actively asking customers to check in, and making sure they have, so it is a process the team is familiar with.

Tentworld director Jon Burrell with his family. Source: supplied.

There are already rare occasions when people object, says Burrell and the direction for staff is to try to keep their distance from the customer, and to get them out of the store as quickly as possible.

Staff members are not expected to act as bouncers, Burrell says, however, he acknowledges that when it comes to vaccinations, people have stronger opinions.

“There is potential for much more escalated conflict,” he says.

There are then questions around what the business owners’ responsibilities are if, and when, someone refuses to check in.

“What happens afterwards is probably the question mark,” he says. 

Do businesses have to flat out refuse entry? Do they have to report the person, or try to detail them themselves? Are they liable if an unvaccinated person does spend time on the premises?

Still, despite the current lack of clarity, Burrell says this plan is more palatable than the alternative.

“I’m not thrilled about them asking us to check that everyone’s okay to come in,” he says.

“[But] I would probably rather this than keeping the shop shut for longer.”

“Difficult to implement”

Elsewhere, Swift says she and her team are also excited at the prospect of re-opening to visitors from Sydney, who make up much of the trade in Orange.

“That gives us a clear indication of what, as a business, we can start to plan for — that’s really positive,” she says.

However, she also has concerns, largely around how to train staff to deal with the small minority of would-be customers who may not be vaccinated, or refuse to check in to show it.

Pubs and bars in the city are used to refusing entry and asking people to leave, she says, but her staff are not accustomed to having to do that — and they’re not trained for it.

“We will probably be looking for advice on how best to deal with that,” she says.

Swift would like to see some advice or support from the government as to where the responsibilities lie, and how to get this process right.

On top of the stress of having no business for months, this is just another thing for small business owners to get their heads around, she says.

“We want to do the right thing, but how are we going to do that?,” she asks.

“It’s kind of left to the small businesses to uphold a government mandate.”

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Michelle P
Michelle P
8 days ago

No business customers for months and now we also have to restrict who we can and can’t serve. I’m not trained in medical apartheid. Is the government going to supply these staff?