Ingham Daily Press

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More COVID chaos: New restrictions put pressure on local businesses

Concerns for Hinchinbrook businesses as the new COVID-19 restrictions could see some businesses forced to close their doors.

UNVACCINATED Queenslanders will be refused entry into hospitality venues and certain government-owned establishments when the state hits its 80 per cent double vaccination target come December.

The Queensland Government’s shock announcement last week revealed the new restrictions coming into play from 17 December will see unvaccinated Queenslanders unable to visit vulnerable settings, hospitality venues, indoor entertainment ventures, outdoor entertainment activities, festivals or Queensland Government owned galleries, museums, or libraries.

Hinchinbrook MP Nick Dametto said the State Government needed to provide a COVID-19 recovery plan that protected all Queenslanders without causing segregation and discrimination.

He said: ‘My office has been taking calls from constituents who are fully vaccinated and those who aren’t based on their personal and medical circumstances, and the majority are stating the mandates for unvaccinated Queenslanders are far too harsh.

‘My staff have parents crying in the office, beside themselves that their children may not be able to go to the cinemas, watch a football game or work their part-time job.’

And the COVID chaos continues for small business with the new restrictions leaving business owners frustrated and confused about how the supposed new rules will play out for them, their staff, and customers.

Mr Dametto fears some businesses would be forced to close their doors or drastically reduce operating hours to cope with losing staff who for a multitude of reasons don’t feel comfortable getting the vaccine.  

‘I’ve spoken with many small business owners in our electorate, and they estimate that there would be at least one or two employees in most businesses that will be in this position.

‘Training employees requires a significant amount of time and effort for business owners and if these restrictions go ahead this will mean some will be forced to lay off and replace cornerstone staff like management to persons with niche skill sets.’

With Queensland fast approaching 80 per cent full vaccination and Christmas holidays around the corner, the restrictions could not come at a worse time for the recovering tourism and hospitality industries.  

Mr Dametto said: ‘We’re coming into the craziest time of year; consumer confidence is up, and business owners are now left with the task of gearing up for Christmas and the holiday season with the prospect of losing up to 20 per cent of their staff. Sacking people a week before Christmas is a low blow even for this Government.

‘Also, where are they going to find another employee to stand at the door and physically check every single customer’s COVID-19 proof of vaccination certification, these rules have clearly been put together by someone who’s never run a cafe or restaurant.’

Mr Dametto worries about the unwanted pressure on businesses and their staff who will be forced to play “enforcement officer” and will need to manage the ramifications of refusing entry to unvaccinated Queenslanders.

He said: ‘The Queensland Government needs to recognise these new rules, in practical terms, isn’t going to work.’

Hinchinbrook Chamber of Commerce Outgoing President Rachael Coco said that Queensland’s peak business body, CCIQ, was already advocating for “incentives” for businesses who would need to enforce new restrictions.

She said: ‘At the end of the day, small businesses will suffer under these restrictions when they’re forced to turn away customers during a time when they need our support, so they deserve incentives to implement these changes.

‘It’s also concerning that the new restrictions once again lack clarity – businesses want to be compliant, but the constant changes, inconsistencies and poor communication from government can make difficult times even more challenging.

‘My personal fear is that these restrictions don’t take into account the unique circumstances of regional areas – if businesses have to lay off unvaccinated staff, we don’t exactly have a surplus of skilled jobseekers waiting in the ranks, so businesses in regional areas in the impacted industries will definitely feel the pressure.’

Ms Coco also said that questions about “policing” of the new restrictions was also a hot topic, with many questioning whether QPS has the capacity to monitor all businesses and consumers.

‘The penalties are steep for non-compliance, but small businesses can’t afford to employ additional staff members to prevent unvaccinated people from entering their premises and it’s hard to fathom how QPS can be expected to constantly enforce these regulations.’

She said: ‘Whilst Chamber hasn’t formed an official position on this matter, I personally hope that the TGA’s approval of rapid self-testing kits offer a solution that protects the community without hurting small businesses, staff and consumers.

‘I hope that the future holds solution-oriented leadership instead of restrictive legislation that discriminates against certain industries and segregates our community.’

In Parliament this week, Mr Dametto prioritised ensuring Brisbane-based decision-makers were made aware of the possibly disastrous impacts their new COVID-19 restrictions targeting the “unvaccinated” will have on regional Queensland businesses.

The Katter’s Australian Party have proposed an alternative and “sensible” option for unvaccinated Queenslanders that would make use of the COVID-19 rapid antigen self-tests approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in place of “vaccine certificates”.

 The tests are available for purchase in supermarkets, pharmacies and online at a cost of between $10 to $15 per test, and have been used as an alternative approach in other parts of the world, including the UK and parts of Europe.

Mr Dametto said under the proposed plan all Queenslanders, including healthcare workers and police who are currently subjected to Government-imposed mandates would have the options to prove they are either fully-vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19 in the last 48 hours when clocking on for work or going out and about.

‘The KAP’s plan would also reduce unnecessary pressures on the State’s police force, who would be expected to respond to unprecedented calls for assistance when the unvaccinated are locked out from most sections of society.’

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at a press conference yesterday said vaccine mandates to enter pubs and cafes should not be in place after states reach the 80 per cent vaccination threshold.

Mr Morrison made it clear that the federal government opposed mandatory vaccinations and only mandated it in “very specific circumstances”.

He said: ‘We’re not in favour of mandatory vaccines imposed by the government.

‘Vaccines only are mandatory in cases where you’ve got health workers that are working with vulnerable people. That’s what our medical advice has always been.

‘Businesses can make their own choices under the law, but we’re not about telling them what to do or telling Australians what to do.’

Mr Morrison said: ‘As we get above 80 per cent in particular, which the scientific advice shows us and the research shows us, that means Australians can have their lives back.

‘They should be able to go get a cup of coffee in Brisbane when we’re over 80 per cent regardless of whether you’ve had the vaccines or not.’

The Hinchinbrook LGA has one of the highest vaccination rates in Queensland and as of 7 November 2021 sit at 74.6 per cent fully vaccinated and 84.5 per cent first dose.

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