The hospitality industry is calling on the New South Wales government to allow restaurants, cafes and pubs to reopen to vaccinated diners ahead of the state reaching a 70% vaccination rate target.
The proposal by Restaurant and Catering, the peak hospitality industry association, includes measures to allow venues to reopen outdoor dining spaces to vaccinated patrons as well as some indoor dining areas.
Wes Lambert, chief executive of Restaurant and Catering, says the proposal is designed to ensure the hospitality industry is part of the reopening roadmap.
“In order to reopen faster, the hospitality industry would accept predominantly outdoor dining with some indoor for vaccinated people,” Lambert tells SmartCompany.
While the initial proposal included a pilot program beginning from September, increasing COVID-19 case numbers in Sydney and the tightening of restrictions have made that date seem unlikely.
On Friday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced a tightening of restrictions from next week, including a 9pm curfew in suburbs considered hotspots as the state reported 644 locally acquired cases of COVID-19.
Lambert says he’s “acutely aware” that the NSW government is now less likely to allow any reopening of hospitality venues before 70% of eligible residents are vaccinated.
“But as we approach that [target] we want to ensure that there’s a transitional period so that businesses can trade outdoors in advance of the milestone,” Lambert says.
Details about how patrons would prove their vaccination status are yet to be determined but Lambert says there are already examples of workers verifying their status using Services Australia records.
“We see many examples around the country including the Western Australia and Queensland borders and among construction workers wanting to leave the hotspot LGAs in Sydney,” Lambert says.
Calls for a vaccination blitz
Boosting vaccination rates among workers as well as patrons is another goal industry associations, including both Restaurant and Catering and the Australian Hotel Association are aiming for.
Lambert says the accommodation and food service industry is in favour of an industry specific vaccination blitz to help boost vaccination rates among hospitality workers. A similar vaccine drive was adopted for construction workers in Sydney’s LGA of concern.
“We welcome a super Saturday or super Sunday for the entire accommodation, food service industry to go to a vaccine hub and get vaccinated,” Lambert says.
The hospitality industry’s proposal to reopen outdoor dining to vaccinated patrons was guided by results from a survey of its members.
The survey found that 63% of hospitality business owners said they would either like the federal government to mandate vaccination for hospitality workers, or they would like to be able to mandate vaccinations themselves.
Mike Clarke, founder and chief executive of Sauce Brewing Co in Marrickville, says he supports opening up seated dining to vaccinated customers. However, he says verifying a customer’s vaccination status gives staff another level of responsibility.
“I’m not going to lie, this is going to be difficult for staff. It’s yet another level of compliance needed to be policed by our staff,” he says.
Clarke’s main concern is that most of his employees have been too young to get vaccinated, which he says shows hospitality workers have been “ignored” in the government’s rollout.
“On a busy Saturday, my staff would interact with up to 1000 customers. How is that not considered frontline work?”
In New South Wales, 29.32% of the population that is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine is now fully vaccinated and 55.23% has received the first dose.
The rate is slightly higher than national vaccination figures. Across Australia, 27.5% of the eligible population is now fully vaccinated and 49.5% has received the first dose.