When will retail and hospitality re-open? Industry groups push protocols to speed up restriction wind-backs

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Scott Morrison is expected to address easing restrictions this week. Source: AAP Image/Lukas Coch.

Industry lobbyists for the retail and hospitality industries are pushing for a controlled easing of trading restrictions and stay-at-home orders over the next two months, amid renewed confidence Australia may be approaching a nationwide relaxation of COVID-19 containment advice.

After Prime Minister Scott Morrison ended last week offering an “early mark” to Australians on a possible easing of restrictions, industry groups are preparing to spend this week getting in the ears of legislators with their own plans for how industries could resume some semblance of normal programming.

The Restaurant & Catering Association will meet with Queensland’s Palaszczuk government later this week to discuss its proposal for a re-opening of restaurants across Australia’s most northern state, with June emerging as an indicative time frame for an easing of restrictions.

The association’s chief executive Wes Lambert circulated a detailed proposal to federal and state officials last week outlining how restaurants could re-open with a series of new protocols and practices to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The plan includes the possibility of introducing a record of all visitors for contract tracing and the installation of physical barriers between tables to ensure social distancing.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that following these guidelines we’ll be able to get restaurants open by June,” Lambert tells SmartCompany.

“We believe trialling guidelines to ensure the safety of patrons is a good way for premiers to re-open the economy in the safest possible way,” he says.

Australia placed unprecedented restrictions on businesses and residents in March in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus, forcing many hospitality and retail businesses to shut their doors and significantly reducing customer numbers for those businesses technically allowed to keep trading.

A consortium of retail industry lobbyists — including the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), National Retailers Association (NRA), Pharmacy Guild and Shopping Centre Council of Australia (SCCA) — issued a statement last Friday outlining their own “protocols” for parts of the industry to re-open.

While most retail shops have escaped the same mandatory restrictions as restaurants and cafes, stay-at-home orders in Victoria and NSW have barred residents from leaving their homes for non-essential purposes, and Morrison has previously echoed that advice from a national perspective.

“As more retail stores start to reopen, which will see a surge in customer demand, the community should have confidence their health and safety is a priority for retailers including how they purchase goods and interact with staff,” NRA chief executive Dominique Lamb said in a statement.

The retail protocols include the frequent cleaning of in-store surfaces, maintenance of social distancing rules and the provision of alcohol-based hand sanitiser at entrances.

Industry groups are under pressure to secure an easing of restrictions, amid concern thousands of firms are struggling to keep their heads above water.

It is hoped providing a blueprint for easing restrictions while addressing public health concerns could encourage officials to open the gates sooner than they otherwise would.

The Morrison government has sought to tie a possible easing of trading restrictions and stay-at-home advice to the uptake of its COVIDSafe tracing app, which now has more than four million downloads.

National cabinet will meet on Friday to discuss the public health advice and Morrison is expected to make a subsequent statement about whether restrictions will be eased.

It comes after Queensland, Tasmania, NSW, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory eased some restrictions, amid continued success in tackling the coronavirus outbreak.

Queensland said residents could shop for non-essential retail goods from last Friday, but Australia’s two most populous states, NSW and Victoria, are yet to make the same declarations.

While NSW has eased parts of its stay-at-home and isolation orders, including allowing limited person-to-person socialising, Victoria has maintained its restrictions.

Premier Daniel Andrews says rules will be re-assessed on May 11, but not before then.

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