Calls for vaccine mandate on hospitality staff to protect regions

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Rural doctors and pub owners say all hospitality workers who deal with customers should be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a requirement of their employment.

The Rural Doctors Association of Victoria and the Australian Hotels Association have separately called for public-facing hospitality workers to be a focus of vaccination programs, with the state set to reopen once 80 per cent of eligible people are fully vaccinated.

The Rural Doctors Association of Victoria says all hospitality staff should be vaccinated against coronavirus.

More than 70 per cent of people aged 16 and over in regional Victoria have received their first dose, an Age analysis of federal Health Department data has found.

As of Monday morning, 73.7 per cent of the eligible population of regional Victoria – almost 960,000 people – had received their first shot, up from 67.9 per cent this time last week.

In metropolitan Melbourne, 64.9 per cent of the eligible population had received one dose (more than 2.6 million people), up from 58.3 per cent the previous week.

Rural Doctors Association of Victoria president Rob Phair said all staff in pubs, restaurants and wineries should be vaccinated before dealing with customers.

“I think it’s entirely reasonable for rural service providers to require their employees to be vaccinated,” he said. “They may be exposed to travellers, truck drivers and essential workers from Melbourne.”

Dr Phair said vaccinations should also be required for workers in service stations and truck stops on major highways, arguing they are dealing with customers travelling long distances who may unwittingly bring coronavirus with them. “Those places are high risk,” he said.

He said vaccination rates should ideally exceed 90 per cent to provide maximum protection for rural communities and prevent health services from being overwhelmed if they have to treat COVID-positive patients.

People wait after receiving their jabs in Geelong. Regional Victoria is surging ahead with vaccination rates. Credit:Luis Ascui

Australian Hotels Association Victoria chief executive Paddy O’Sullivan called for a government policy requiring hospitality staff and patrons to be vaccinated.

He confirmed the association is developing a form of legal indemnity for pubs that require immunisation for workers and customers.

“Staff would see that it is worth being vaccinated anyway for their own personal protection and being part of the community effort to get on top of this virus,” he said.

On Tuesday, Deputy Premier James Merlino indicated mandatory vaccinations may become more widespread.

“We’re working through a range of industries and sectors where vaccination of staff may be a requirement,” he said.

Deputy Premier James Merlino on Tuesday. He indicated vaccinations may be required for more industries. Credit:Chris Hopkins

Asked about Crown Casino’s plan to vaccinate staff, Mr Merlino said: “It makes sense that if a venue requires that you are vaccinated to enter, that the staff are also vaccinated.”

Sea Change Hospitality managing director Tarren Colwell urged the government to provide clear direction to businesses on whether staff should be immunised.

The business employs about 120 workers across two venues on the Bellarine Peninsula – At The Heads in Barwon Heads and The Dunes in Ocean Grove.

“If you don’t want to be vaccinated, that’s fine, but don’t expect the same freedoms as everyone else in the short term,” he said. “We’ve got a duty of care to our fellow staff and patrons and that’s our primary concern.”

Sea Change Hospitality boss Tarren Colwell wants direction from the government on whether vaccinations should be required for staff and customers. Credit:Jason South

Seas Change Hospitality is waiting for density quotas to increase to at least 20 people indoors and 25 outside before reopening, even though it would still be operating at a loss. Mr Colwell said it would allow the company to employ and retain staff.

Danny Hills, of Federation University’s Health Innovation and Transformation Centre, said rural health services may be vulnerable to exposure to COVID-19 cases, and it remained to be seen whether the 80 per cent vaccination rate would provide them sufficient protection.

“You have limited workforces in rural communities,” Professor Hills said. “If they’re impacted, it might not be the fact that hospitals are overrun, it might be the workforce that is compromised.”

Geelong Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ben Flynn said he was seeking support from the state government to trial business events in Victoria’s second-largest city that would be invitation-only for vaccinated people.

He said Geelong had venues that could trial an app or QR technology that would confirm attendees’ vaccination status.

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