Representatives from the state’s hospitality industry have proposed a ‘no jab, no dine’ approach to reopening venues earlier than anticipated in a way that would ensure COVID safety.
In a submission to the NSW government that was leaked to The Sun Herald on Friday, industry bodies have called for the relaxing of COVID measures for vaccinated people in outdoor dining situations with limited capacities.
If the proposal is accepted, it could see NSW residents, all of whom are currently in lockdown, drinking beers outside their favourite restaurants and bars within six weeks or so.
But, with rising case numbers in the state, we look at how this policy would work and the likelihood of it being accepted.
How Would ‘No Jab, No Dine’ Work
The Restaurant and Catering Association proposed the relaxation of restrictions in September. The Australian Hotels Association has also said that it would support mandatory vaccination as a first step to restarting pubs.
“We would support a platform where staff and patrons had to be vaccinated if that allowed us to reopen sooner,” said AHA NSW director John Green.
A plan to allow vaccinated people to dine out would require some kind of app. Medicare vaccination data held by the federal government would likely need to be incorporated into the Service NSW COVID Safe check-in app which could be scanned upon entry.
“It needs to be as simple as possible – you can’t have a situation where you scan your QR code from NSW then you have to separately open your myGov account,” Mr Green said.
‘Vaccine passports’, the certificates that prove your vaccination status, are already operational in Australia but have yet to be used widely. The process is not very user friendly so streamlining this would be key.
In the RCA proposal sent to ministers Dominic Perrottet, Stuart Ayres, Damien Tudehope and Rob Stokes, the industry body has also asked the government for additional reopening grants of $15,000 to $25,000 per business.
“Previous grants have been eaten up by bills due during the lockdown, and the overwhelming majority of hospitality businesses will be cash broke when allowed to reopen,” the RCA said in their proposal.
If the policy were accepted, the RCA has urged the government to fast-track venue permits for outdoor seating and dining for vaccinated people. This would include the use of space normally occupied by neighbouring businesses if it is unused, as well as the council land of pavements and footpaths.
The proposal also requests businesses be given $5000 to buy outdoor tables, chairs and umbrellas.
How Likely Is It That No Jab No Dine Will Be Brought In?
With a record 633 new cases reported on Wednesday, the state is on high alert. In her daily press conference, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that the data suggests “We haven’t seen the worst of it.”
“The way that we stop this is by everybody staying at home,” she said.
While that is less than encouraging, Berejiklian has previously talked up the idea of loosening restrictions for the vaccinated as the numbers of those protected by the vaccines in the state rises. September was a previously mentioned date for when this could happen.
The premier had asked NSW Health to look at “some categories of low-risk and safe ways that vaccinated people can interact [in September and October] but I do not want to raise expectations in terms of hospitality”, she said on Saturday.
However, as case numbers have climbed aggressively in recent days, Berejiklian has somewhat backtracked on those earlier statements and has talked down suggestions pubs and restaurants could start to reopen before the state reaches 70-80 per cent full vaccination coverage.
NSW is currently on track to reach those targets by mid-October and mid-November respectively.
The RCA, for their part, have pushed back on those more negative predictions, saying that it is reasonable to reopen pubs in specific areas with high vaccination rates and low case numbers.
“Those are easily the areas we could target in the first instance,” he said but acknowledged that was unlikely in the next four to six weeks.
The restaurant association have said differently, preferring to reopen outdoor dining only when possible across the board.
“That level of uncertainty is just totally unsustainable for businesses owners,” RCA chief executive Wes Lambert said.
“What NSW needs is a suite of rules that allows the hospitality industry to get open and stay open safely.
“The previously tested scenario of predominantly outdoor dining with some indoor dining based on capacity is the most logical first step on the way forward to full reopening at 70-80 per cent fully vaccinated.”
NSW Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, has said that the government is looking at ways to boost recovery and get venues open as soon as possible, acknowledging that the hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit in the country.
NSW Planning Minister, Robert Stokes, said the state’s Alfresco Dining Taskforce had reconvened to examine further ways to use streets and public spaces for outdoor dining.
“When the health advice shows that reopening is possible, we will be ready with a suite of new measures that will support our industry to recover in whatever way possible,” he said.