The Victorian government is launching so-called ‘vaccinated economy’ trials throughout parts of Regional Victoria, in a bid to iron out the kinks for businesses, ahead of a broader re-opening to only vaccinated customers.
However, there’s still a whole lot of uncertainty for businesses preparing to open their doors again, and big questions remaining for both state and federal governments to answer.
Set to launch from October 11, the trials are expected to run for a fortnight before Victoria moves into stage B of the reopening roadmap, when 70% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, and when restrictions start to ease throughout the whole state.
The vaccinated economy trials are initially being rolled out in six municipalities with high vaccination rates and low number of COVID-19 cases:
- Bass Coast;
- Greater Bendigo;
- Buloke; and
- East Gippsland.
According to a statement from the Victorian government, the trials are intended to help figure out the best processes for businesses to establish vaccination status of customers.
Work is also underway to integrate Commonwealth vaccination data with the Service Victoria check-in app.
There isn’t much detail available yet, but the statement suggests that support for business owners and training for staff will be offered as part of the trials.
They will also include public communication of vaccine requirements, while ‘support officers’ will be deployed to help ensure trials run smoothly, and to offer additional support to businesses.
“These trials are an important step as we move towards a vaccinated economy, supporting businesses to open safely and recover strongly and individuals to play their very important part,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.
Minister for Industry Support and Recovery Martin Pakula added that businesses and events are “on the front line” when it comes to the economic recovery, and in helping prevent further COVID-19 outbreaks.
“We’ll do the work on these trials and provide businesses with the support they need to maintain and build on the gains that continue to be enabled by vaccination.”
The trials come after businesses in regional Victoria have already been able to re-open to a limited number of guests, without having to check vaccination status.
When the 70% double-vaccination target is met, expected to be around October 26, all regional businesses will be able to offer seated service to up to 30 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, if they are fully vaccinated.
If guests are not fully vaccinated, the restrictions remain the same as previously.
Retail stores are also currently able to open, with capacity limits of one person per four-square metres, with no vaccination checks required. This is not set to change until 80% of the eligible population is double-vaccinated.
Big questions remain for small businesses
With very little information currently available on exactly how the ‘vaccinated economy’ trials are likely to work, there are significant questions still unanswered for business owners who want to open up safely, to as many patrons as possible.
For those businesses in the trial areas, those questions have suddenly become a lot more pressing.
Accounting body CPA Australia has highlighted 10 major question marks, which it says the federal and state government must address as quickly as possible in order to offer some certainty to business owners.
First, the business community needs answers around their responsibilities when it comes to customer vaccination status.
- Once lockdown restrictions ease, which businesses will be required to deny entry or services to unvaccinated people?
- For those that are not required to deny services to unvaccinated people, can they choose to?
- Can a business request vaccination status information from a customer before allowing them entry or providing them with a service?
- If a person has a medical exemption from being vaccinated, can the business ask for proof? And is that person required to provide it?
Then, CPA highlighted key questions around vaccine and testing requirements for employees:
- Can businesses require employees and contractors to undertake a rapid antigen test immediately before starting a shift or providing in-person services?
- If vaccination is mandated for an industry, can the business terminate or stand down employees who refuse to be vaccinated? Does this change if vaccination is not mandated for their industry?
- Can businesses request evidence of an employee’s or contractor’s vaccination status before allowing them into the workplace?
- Once the 80% fully-vaccinated level is reached, if an individual employee is required to self-isolate, can the business stand them down without pay? If so, will government financial support be available to them?
And finally, there are unanswered questions around the possibility of further business closures.
- Once the 80% double-vaccinated target is reached, if an employee, contractor or customer tests positive for COVID-19, will all close contacts still have to be isolated for 14 days?
- In this case, if a business has to close — or if it is closed due to a targeted lockdown — what financial support will be available to that business?
“Re-opening roadmaps are a positive development and we’re keen to see more of them,” said CPA Australia Chief Executive Andrew Hunter.
“But so far they’ve raised many unanswered questions.”
All businesses must factor these questions into their reopening plans, he added. It’s this kind of uncertainty that creates risk, and can lead to additional costs.
“We’re aware of regional businesses which are choosing not to open now, even though they can, because the uncertainty is too great,” Hunter explained.
“Although businesses can obtain legal advice for some questions, this creates an undue burden, especially for small businesses.”
He called on governments to answer these questions, and make those answers readily accessible to business owners, rather than leaving the private sector to “muddle its way through”.
He also said CPA would like to see each state and territory develop a ‘one-stop-shop’ offering detailed re-opening information for businesses.
“One of the problems we’re seeing, which has been a systemic issue since the pandemic began, is that information is held by numerous government departments, agencies and organisations,” he said.
“Businesses are chasing their tails trying to figure out where to go for answers. This increases the likelihood that mistakes will be made and there will be compliance breaches.”
Are you the owner of a business in one of the trial areas? Are you concerned about what it means for your business or staff? Let us know in the comments below, or email us at: [email protected]