A planned trial for vaccine passports that will be used when NSW and Victoria reopen is set to begin today.
Ahead of NSW’s planned reopening on October 11 and Victoria’s planned reopening on October 26, the trials are set to ensure the new verification system works effectively and cannot be forged.
A further lifting of restrictions in Victoria is expected to occur on November 5 when 80% of over-16s are immunised, with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews stating it will trial its own vaccine passport ahead of this point.
The digital proofs of vaccination, which in NSW will be integrated into the ServicesNSW app, will allow people to scan a QR code similar to how they currently check into a business.
The app has been designed with a digital hologram to ensure it cannot be forged, and has been delayed in part by the need to access federally held databases and vaccine information.
Vaccine passport may not be ready in time for reopening
The vaccine passports are still on track to be trialled this week in regional NSW, according to The Australian Financial Review.
Digital Minister Victor Dominello told reporters in September that the two-week pilot would involve between 100 and 500 people in regional NSW.
The government has not revealed the specific location of the trial, but Dominello said at the time it wanted the trial conducted outside of any major metropolitan hubs.
“We decided against Sydney because we don’t want to create a honeypot effect,” Dominello said at the time.
“If you create one location in Sydney, then everyone will be drawn to it, whereas in the regions, they’re already quasi-opened up anyway.”
While NSW was initially forecast to reach the 70% vaccination rate required for reopening in late October, the state hit its targets two weeks earlier than anticipated and brought forward reopening plans to next Monday October 11.
If the government waits until the regional two-week pilot is finished to roll out vaccine passports across the state, it could mean the vaccine passports won’t be ready in time for businesses to open on Monday in NSW.
Digital Minister Victor Dominello has previously said the digital service was unlikely to be ready on time but that the government was “moving heaven and earth to get that ready.”
The minister also said in late September there were other options for showing vaccination status to public-facing businesses.
Vaccination certificates are already accessible to NSW residents but will have to be sighted by a business owner or representative until it is integrated with the federal system
“This is just to make it easier,” Dominello said.
Who will enforce passport checks?
When vaccine passports are rolled out, they will be an essential tool for making sure that only fully vaccinated adults (or people with medical exemptions) can enter venues like restaurants, bars and non-essential retail.
The government said it has been consulting the industry about vaccine passports.
However, some industry groups have raised concerns about how interactions between members of the public and publicly facing businesses might play out.
Businesses are navigating a legal framework that “wasn’t designed for dealing with a pandemic”, Amy Zhang, executive counsel at Harmers Workplace Lawyers, told Business Insider Australia in September.
Zhang said there was still uncertainty for businesses about what their responsibilities would be when reopening.
“At the moment, there’s not a lot of detail from the government as to how that’s all going to work, and what exactly will be required of businesses,” Zhang said.
On Sunday, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said businesses could be fined up to $5,000 for not taking “reasonable measures” to stop unvaccinated adults from entering.
However the NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller told radio station 2GB that as long as signage is in place instructing patrons to check into the business, police would not be taking an active role in penalising individual staff over potential breaches.
“We will certainly be assisting restaurant owners and shop owners if they are refusing entry to someone,” Fuller said.
“The role for police going forward in terms of vaccination won’t be stopping people and asking to see their vaccination passport,” he added, which aligns with what businesses have been told by the state government.
NSW’s peak body for business, Business NSW, told The New Daily that the government has reassured them that the public health orders will clearly state the onus will be on individuals to do the right thing rather than for businesses to enforce the measures.
By December 1, NSW’s restrictions around proof of vaccination will be eased and it will be up to individual businesses to decide whether they will enforce any vaccine-related rules.