Face masks and coverings are quickly becoming a reality for business owners across the country as tighter restrictions come into effect in Victoria and retailers in other states take their own measures.
Yesterday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews moved to make face masks mandatory for the entirety of the state, meaning businesses outside of the metropolitan Melbourne lockdown will now be required to ensure all customers are wearing face coverings.
Elsewhere, supermarket giant Woolworths has said it will strongly encourage all customers in NSW to wear masks in its stores.
It is clear businesses are realising the risk that COVID-19 spread in their workplaces poses to their bottom lines. As Andrews repeatedly underlined, businesses forced to close in the event of a positive case face steep costs associated with deep cleaning, closing their stores and assisting with contract tracing efforts.
Let’s run through what’s changed over the last 24 hours.
Victoria: Face masks in restaurants?
From midnight on Sunday, a curious situation will emerge where restaurants in regional Victoria, which are allowed to host diners in their venues, will also be required to ensure they wear face masks or coverings.
These new rules will cover all businesses in Victoria which are outside the metropolitan Melbourne area caught up in the initial face mask rule.
When do patrons need to wear face masks?
Well, far from viral scenes of diners in the US eating and drinking through their masks, Andrews said yesterday patrons will be allowed to take off their face coverings as long as they remain seated.
“You can take your face covering off when eating or drinking. You should carry a plastic zip-lock bag to store your face covering in while you eat,” Department of Health and Human Services advice reads.
Essentially, restaurants need to make sure customers have their masks on whenever they’re not seated for the purposes of eating and drinking.
Who enforces these rules?
Practically, this introduces some complications for business owners. Particularly if any customers are less than enthused about the prospect of bringing masks into a venue.
Wes Lambert, chief executive of Restaurant and Catering Australia, says the new rules will mean “less bums on seats” for small businesses, but are nevertheless needed to curb the spread of COVID-19 across Victoria.
“While inconvenient, it’s certainly needed as a health response,” Lambert tells SmartCompany.
“Ultimately, it’s the business owner’s responsibility to ensure that all health orders are followed.”
Businesses are advised to make their conditions of entry — including the need to comply with public health orders — clear to diners before they enter a venue.
As lawyers have previously explained, conditions of entry serve as a contract between the business and their customers, which is the legal basis on which a restaurant can ask a customer to leave if they’re not following the rules.
Why are businesses encouraging face masks?
Businesses such as Woolworths are encouraging customers to wear face masks in areas without mandatory covering rules, such as NSW and Queensland.
Why? Well, face masks make good business sense from a risk mitigation point of view.
“Even though wearing a face covering is not mandatory in NSW, the ACT or Queensland, as the largest private sector employer with stores in almost every community, we feel it’s important we lead the way in helping reduce community transmission of COVID-19,” Woolworths Group chief executive Brad Banducci said in a statement on Wednesday.
“We’re asking our teams to lead by example, and this includes our Group Executive Team.”
When a case of COVID-19 is confirmed to have emerged from a hospitality venue or retail business, that store will be forced to close for deep cleaning, and authorities will require business owners to co-operate with extensive contract tracing efforts.
There’s a price tag on all these activities, from needing to forgo trading to standing down staff and coordinating hygiene measures.
In light of this, businesses are trying to minimise the risk that COVID-19 cases will be tied to their venues, an occurrence which is not all too uncommon, even in NSW.