‘A sense of freedom’: Small businesses and industry groups welcome eased COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria and NSW

Burgertory Chapel St

Burgertory, Chapel St. Source: supplied.

Melbourne’s own burger king Hash Tayeh has welcomed eased COVID-19 restrictions for Victorian businesses, saying eased quarantine, face mask, and check-in requirements will help staff “work the way they love.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Wednesday revealed another withdrawal of pandemic-era restrictions, declaring the state’s high vaccination rates and stabilising infection numbers as cause for cautious optimism.

Key measures include changes to quarantine requirements for COVID-19 close contacts. From 11.59pm this Friday, close contacts of confirmed coronavirus cases will no longer need to self-isolate, “provided they wear a mask indoors and avoid sensitive settings”.

Instead, they will need to undertake at least five COVID-19 rapid antigen tests (RATs) in the seven days after their potential exposure.

That change is likely to help businesses like Tayeh’s Burgertory chain, which counted more than half its 400-strong staff as COVID-19 positive or a close contact in January.

In addition, people who have already recovered from COVID-19 will not need to test or isolate again for 12 weeks post-infection.

“It gives us a lot more sense of security in terms of rostering, and not needing to have any last minute panic and looking where we need to cover rosters, cover entire teams,” Tayeh told SmartCompany.

Face masks will no longer be required in Victorian hospitality and retail venues from midnight Friday, a move Tayeh said would provide staff with “a sense of freedom”.

“They’re able to give proper customer service,” he added. “Good customer service always ends with a smile.”

The government’s wording around “sensitive settings” suggests business owners can advocate for face mask use at their discretion, he added.

In a significant move for public-facing businesses, Victoria will also drop the requirement for patrons to check-in with their vaccine certificate to enter a hospitality venue, meaning Victorians will no longer need to prove they have received two doses of the vaccine before stepping inside a business.

“Our staff felt a lot of pressure from the public,” Tayeh said.

“A lot of our staff, younger staff, and they find it hard to deal with that sort of confrontation, where they ask someone to check in and they don’t, you know, so we provided a lot of coaching towards that conflict resolution.”

The tweaks mean staff will no longer have to “mandate rules onto [customers] as if they’re the police when they just try and do their jobs”.

Industry groups welcome next phase of COVID-19 measures

Industry groups have thrown their support behind the easing of restrictions in Victoria, and across the border in New South Wales, where a similar set of COVID-19 measures will be dropped from Friday night.

“The removal of these isolation requirements in NSW and Victoria are an important step on the path towards living with COVID-19 and are an example for the other jurisdictions to follow,” said Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra.

“Businesses have been finding the isolation requirements particularly onerous,” said Tim Piper, Victorian head of the Australian Industry Group. “With workers being required to stay home if they are close contacts, it has placed staffing stresses on many businesses.”

As businesses prepare to drop another round of restrictions, COVID-19 case numbers continue to roll in. Victoria counted 3188 confirmed cases and more than 7440 suspected cases on Wednesday, while New South Wales logged 17,447 cases between lab tests and RATs.

The removal of restrictions suggests Australian governments are preparing for an “endemic” phase of the virus, Tayeh said, where a public health response no longer carves into how businesses operate.

But the fast food leader suggested business could temperature-check their employees before working as an added layer of safety, and supported the use of RATs before workers clocked on, so long as those kits were subsidised with government funds.

“That’s in the best interest of the public,” he said.

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