NSW businesses confused about who will enforce rules for unvaccinated customers

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Jenny Evans/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

New South Wales cafes and restaurants are “confused and bewildered” about who will enforce looming laws barring unvaccinated patrons, and fear the lack of a QR code-style system will create confrontations, the industry’s peak body warns.

The state government is preparing to ease restrictions for fully vaccinated residents, likely from 11 October, and will soon make new public health orders to continue restrictions for those who are unvaccinated until December.

The orders will likely require hospitality venues to check a person’s vaccination status prior to entry, but the responsibility for enforcing the new system has created some confusion.

Related: More than half of the Covid cases who died at home in NSW were unknown to health authorities

The Restaurant and Catering Association chief executive, Wes Lambert, told Guardian Australia his members were struggling to understand how the new laws would operate and how they would be enforced.

He said his organisation “remains confused and bewildered at what the public health orders are going to say and who will ultimately be responsible for enforcing the NSW government comments around vaccinated and unvaccinated staff and patrons”.

“The industry is screaming that the public health orders must be issued as soon as possible so they can prepare their businesses and staff for an 11 October re-opening,” Lambert said. “This is not the time for eleventh hour public health orders.”

The police commissioner, Mick Fuller, on Tuesday said his officers would not be patrolling venues, checking a person’s vaccination status, but would respond if a venue was having trouble after refusing a person entry.

The health minister, Brad Hazzard, later said police would have a clear role enforcing the public health orders.

Earlier, the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, and the customer service minister, Victor Dominello, said the onus would be on the individual to do the right thing.

Lambert welcomed the premier and customer service minister’s comments, but said: “Businesses are worried about their obligations, both to their workplace health and safety requirements as well as their obligations under the public health order.”

The NSW government is proposing to lift restrictions for unvaccinated people from December, despite criticism that this would cause a drop-off in demand for the jab.

Hazzard has warned that individual businesses will continue to impose their own restrictions on unvaccinated people, similar to Qantas, after December.

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But the Service NSW app will not display a person’s vaccination status until a two-week pilot in regional NSW, beginning 6 October, is completed.

The state opposition leader, Chris Minns, said the government was leaving business “inadvertently” on the front line of enforcing continued restrictions on unvaccinated residents in coming months.

Minns said he was concerned businesses would be left to enforce the new rules “with no legal protection”.

Related: NSW Covid roadmap explained: what can residents do when state reaches 80% double-dose vaccination and beyond?

“We’ve already seen businesses say they won’t reopen until 1 December to avoid issues with enforcing vaccination rules,” he said.

“The government must provide certainty and support for business that they will have the legal protection, we are also concerned that this is sending the wrong signals on vaccination.”

The Australian Hotels Association, meanwhile, is concerned at the costs its members will incur in enforcing the new requirement, at the same time that indoor capacity is reduced.

“We’re going to see a period probably from around 18 October through to the 1 December, so about six weeks, we will still be operating at 25% indoors,” the AHA NSW branch chief executive, John Whelan, said.

“That will be a continuing hit, also because we will have people at the front door ensuring that people have their Service NSW QR code and proof of vaccine app … that will take more resources at the door.”

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