Local small business owners say they’re left in limbo with shifting dates for the state’s 70 per cent ‘roadmap’ to freedom, along with the fact that the ‘freedoms’ being granted to Sydneysiders will actually represent a loss of freedom for most of Regional NSW.
The statewide roadmap is centred on allowing Sydney residents a path out of lockdown – and guarantees no more snap lockdowns for the regions – but the biggest challenge for the business community will be new requirements for vaccinations.
As of September 27, the federal government reported that 82.5 per cent of the local population has had their first vaccination, and 52.2 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Once the state reaches an average of 70 per cent double-vaxxed (expected in mid-October), vaccinated people will be allowed to visit pubs, clubs, cafes, hairdressers and more.
Unvaccinated people will essentially be back to stay-at-home orders.
Matt Lucas, Vice President of the Tumut Regional Chamber of Commerce and co-owner of The Coffee Pedaler cafes, said he supported the government’s plan.
“I think that it’s a very good way in which we’re able to help minimise the spread of the virus in the community,” he said.
“My expectation is that it’s just going to be part of the check in process. We currently monitor that people are checking into the premises now and we’re just going to continue doing that; it’s going to have a green tick or not.”
The State Government has promised to add proof-of-vaccinations into the ServiceNSW Covid check-in app, but the technology isn’t due to be trialled until October 6, which means it likely won’t be ready in time for launch of the ‘freedom’ roadmap.
Mr Lucas said he anticipated there could be some negative reactions from unvaccinated people wanting to visit his cafes, but said the government messaging has been “very, very clear over the last two months.”
“The Premier has been forthright in the language that people need to be vaccinated,” he said.
The roadmap will mean that living conditions get tighter for unvaccinated residents in Regional NSW, but Mr Lucas said the changes made sense from a statewide perspective.
“That brings us into alignment with the rest of the state and allows travel into Regional NSW from 80 per cent [state average of double-dose] vaccination, which is good for business,” he said.
Ellen Webb, co-owner of The Oriental Hotel in Tumut, said her staff are all fully vaccinated and ready for the coming changes. They stay in touch with a group messaging thread, helping stay on top of the changing rules and dates, but Ms Webb said she’s not sure how they’ll be able to uphold the government’s rules, which prohibited the unvaccinated from visiting hospitality venues until December 1.
“The NSW Government is supposed to set up on our sign-in; when we all go anywhere and sign in it should say we’re vaccinated,” she said, outlining her understanding of the process.
There’s been confusion at the highest levels about whether the check-ins and vaccination requirements will be upheld by NSW Police or individual business owners, with the Police Commissioner and Health Minister crossing wires on Tuesday.
Commissioner Mick Fuller told the press his officers wouldn’t be patrolling for unvaccinated rule-breakers, but Minister Brad Hazzard said enforcement would be upheld by law enforcement.
Either way, Ms Webb said she’s not looking forward to the confrontations which will likely come.
“It causes friction,” she said, “Because there are people who refuse to get vaccinated and there are people who refuse to wear masks. We’ve only come up against a couple of those people, but it’s frustrating for staff to have to deal with people who refuse to do what’s right.”
Ms Webb said most people that she knows have been vaccinated, but expressed concern for younger people, who haven’t had as much of a chance to get vaccinated as their parents.
“It’s going to be a bit hard for people who can’t get in to get vaccinated,” she said.
Ms Webb said the requirements also put extra pressure on staff levels, requiring time to assist and monitor check-ins and deal with any non compliant customers.
“In Tumut, every hotel is advertising for staff at the moment,” she said.
“There’s not many people out there. The pool seems to be very small for people who want to work in hospitality.”
The experienced publican said hospitality has been a difficult – and unreliable – industry to work in for the past 18 months, with fires and multiple rounds of Covid regulations shutting shop doors. She said it made sense that many hospitality workers have transferred to other industries, such as education, administration or retail.
Alongside the unpredictable hours, Ms Webb said they’ve had to deal with increasing rudeness from patrons.
“Not Tumut people, but others,” she clarified.
“It’s not nice to serve people who are not nice to you.
“But Tumut people have been really great and supportive. We’re all in this together, basically, as Gladys likes to say.”
Overall, The Oriental has been enjoying strong support from locals, despite the absence of visitors from Sydney, Canberra and Victoria.
“At the moment it’s just the lovely locals supporting us,” said Ms Webb.
“This week they’ve been coming out, we’ve had a good couple of weeks and this weekend is the long weekend; traditionally it’s a good weekend, but we’re usually full of tourists.”