The current national roadmap for Australia sees the end of virtually all COVID-related restrictions before the beginning of 2022. High vaccination rates have allowed state governments to abandon the goal of reaching COVID-zero, and have allowed our society to instead transition to living with the virus, while keeping cases low where possible to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system. We are currently still moving through this transition phase in which certain limits and regulations remain that businesses may need to consider when planning their ongoing operations, even as we are welcoming back customers and staff. Here are five things that businesses need to consider during this transition period:
- There may be more lockdowns
Over the past two years, lockdowns have become a normality within Australia, and many other countries around the world. While Australia’s COVID-normal reopening will prevent lockdowns from being used to bring us back to COVID-zero, they may still be used but in a different manner.
It has been signaled that temporary lockdowns may be put in place to prevent infections from reaching the point that they overwhelm our hospital systems, should there be excess amounts of infections. Instead of spanning months and months, with the aim of reaching zero cases of community transmission, future lockdowns could instead only span a matter of weeks, with the aim of ensuring our hospital system is able to cope with the insurgence of patients.
Should a temporary lockdown happen, ensure that your business has alternative arrangements ready. Whether it be in the form of a digital office, so that your staff can work from home, or in the form of an online store to ensure your business can continuing selling products, or by adapting your business’ services entirely to suit your customers’ new needs during lockdown.
If your business requires or relies on travel, consider how international or interstate border closures or intrastate travel restrictions may impact your operations, and consider the online alternatives.
2. There are changing regulations to comply with
The previous two years have also brought with them many changes to rules and regulations, with such changes sometimes occurring very suddenly, particularly just before the beginning of a lockdown. Then, with reopening stages involving relaxations of rules, such changes have occurred very slowly, with rules sometimes changing sometimes sooner or later than planned due to changes in vaccination rates or community infections.
Despite this yo-yoing of restrictions, businesses and individuals alike must stay up to date with the current restrictions to ensure that they are not violating any and putting themselves at risk of breaking the law. Currently, in some states, businesses must ensure that the vaccinations statuses of both staff and customers are confirmed to ensure all are fully vaccinated. Not doing so could lead to your business facing penalties, or having trade abilities restricted.
If density limits still apply to your business, ensure that you do not exceed the maximum capacity, or explore outdoor trade and dining options to maximize your store’s capacity. Have signs up directing customers to check-in via QR code or writing down their details. Signs and floor stickers reminding customers to practice social distancing and to wash or sanitize their hands are also beneficial.
3. Ensure that high levels of hygiene are maintained
Maintaining high standards of hygiene contributes greatly to preventing the spread of Covid, and helps to protect the safety of both staff and customers. Whether it be an office, a restaurant, or large retail complex, it is vital to ensure that high touch points are regularly sanitized, or are replaced with no touch options such as automatic doors and automatic dispensers. Ensure that gloves and masks are available for staff members, particularly for staff that have contact with many people throughout a day at work, as they will be at a higher risk of catching and spreading the virus. Having cleaning products available to ensure surfaces are kept clean throughout the day is also important. If a staff member is ill or has any symptoms of Covid-19, ensure that they do not work, and recommend that they get tested for the virus.
4. There are steps to follow if someone tests positive
Should either a staff member or customer that has visited your business test positive for the virus, it is vital that the correct steps are followed. As restrictions change, so do the protocols that follow when someone tests positive for Covid-19, so remain up to date with the current procedures that must be followed. Procedures will be different depending on who tests positive, how often they visited the premises and when their infectious period was. The State or Territory you are in will also impact your required response. No matter what though, it is important to act quickly as the exposure may result in other staff members or customers needing to isolate for a certain time. If the person had been in contact with any of your business’ suppliers or contractors, additional people may have to isolate. Having certain staff or contractors needing to isolate can result in stock delays, staff shortages or even temporary closures and deep-cleans of your business. Ensuring a record of all visitors, staff and customers is kept for the required amount of time is necessary for ensuring all contacts can be followed up if necessary.
5. Understand that things will take time to adjust to
Some states have spent months in a continuous lockdown, and everyone in our community will have to adjust to living in a Covid-normal world. Staff may have forgotten how to complete some of their duties or may not be up to date with cleaning procedures and additional requirements brought in due to Covid-19, so they may require retraining in the short term.
Also, ensure that staff are as protected as they can be from potential abuse or threats from non-compliant customers who may be frustrated with current vaccination rules or capacity limits. Educate your staff on what is expected from them, and make sure they are prepared for questions that they do not know the answer to, by having them direct customers to government Coronavirus websites and hotlines for additional information.
And most importantly, especially for those who have lived through long lockdowns, celebrate!
If you or anyone you know are unsure of the current restrictions or covid-related requirements that may apply to your business, or suspect that you or a staff member may have contracted Covid-19, call the hotline below:
Australian National Coronavirus Helpline: 1800 020 080 (24 hours a day)