Retailers and hospitality venues across New South Wales and Victoria are bracing for a new pandemic challenge: belligerent customers who refuse to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, and a lack of guidance over incoming vaccine passports.
Under the New South Wales reopening plan, retail, hospitality, and entertainment venues will welcome patrons days after the state surpasses a 70% vaccination rate.
Those venues will be subject to strict density limits — and only fully vaccinated patrons will be allowed inside.
“At 70%, if you’re not vaccinated, it will be a health order and the law that if you’re not vaccinated, you can’t attend venues on the roadmap,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said at Wednesday’s press conference.
And Victoria’s roadmap, revealed Sunday, says Melbourne pubs, clubs, and entertainment venues will open to fully vaccinated patrons once the 70% target is met.
With a full rundown of the vaccine passport system yet to materialise, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has honed in on the rights business owners already have to turn down clientele.
“Any venue… has every right under Australia’s property laws to be able to deny entry to people who are unvaccinated,” Morrison told Sky News Australia this month.
But venues welcoming heightened vaccination rates are still calling for clarity over the passport system.
Speaking to The Australian, Super Retail Group CEO Anthony Heraghty voiced fears for store staff tasked with upholding those requirements.
“Customer abuse is not a new phenomenon but we have absolutely seen increases of instances,” Heraghty said.
Staff could face “high stakes” interactions when asking customers to display their vaccination status, he added, noting some patrons could find it a “very frustrating” experience.
Heraghty said the government should provide clearer advice over the forthcoming vaccine passport scheme so stores know their rights and responsibilities.
Beyond retail chains like Super Cheap Auto and Rebel Sport, some high-profile restaurants have already sampled customer responses to the forthcoming vaccine passport system.
When Matt Moran’s Aria restaurant took to Instagram to celebrate its reopening under the NSW plan this month, a small number of aggrieved followers lashed out at the alleged vaccine ‘segregation’.
Speaking to Good Food, Jorge Farah, the managing director of hospitality operators Esca Group, said restaurants will feel more comfortable when clearer rules are in place.
“We will be more confident knowing the government has our back and we just regurgitate the rules,” he said.
The Business Council of Australia has called for further clarity as those reopening dates approach.
Speaking to Sky News Australia earlier this month, Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said Australia cannot ask business to “be the police.”
“You can’t ask small business to take the role of law enforcement,” she said. “That’s not their job.”
An August survey from the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) found 82 per cent of respondents supported vaccine passports with increased freedoms for the double-jabbed, but 57 per cent supported making vaccine passports a condition of entry.
Businesses were concerned by a lack of watertight guidance, ARA CEO Paul Zahra said.
“It’s unfair to leave small businesses to navigate this legal minefield, and expose them to additional costs, without clarity or safeguards in place,” he said.
A separate survey from Restaurants & Catering Australia found 55 per cent of respondents also wanted the power to refuse unvaccinated guests.