Friday, June 24, 2022

ARA: time to live with Covid and align on national protocols

As labour shortages continue to cripple workforces across the country, retailers are calling for an end to close contact isolation requirements, and for national consistency around masks after a member’s survey on Covid protocols from the Australian Retailers Association (ARA).

The online poll of ARA members, representing thousands of businesses nationally both large and small, found:

  • Businesses continue to be impacted by staff shortages due to Covid isolations, with 48% saying the situation has gotten worse over the past month, while 33% say there’s been no change.
  • A majority of businesses (78%) want close contact isolation requirements to be scrapped for people who are testing negative and showing no symptoms of Covid; and,
  • There’s strong support for mask rules to be nationally consistent, with 68% wanting the states and territories to be aligned.

ARA CEO Paul Zahra said retailers continue to be frustrated by inconsistent Covid rules across the country, and staff continue to be forced into isolation, even if they are not sick and testing negative.

“We’re one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, and into the third year of this pandemic, yet we’re continuing to let this virus control our lives with overzealous Covid rules and restrictions which are out of step with many global economies,” Mr Zahra said.

“Close contacts isolation rules are past their use by date. It doesn’t make sense to force healthy people to stay at home when they show no symptoms of Covid and test negative. Keep the sick and Covid-positive people at home, but the healthy should be free to go about their lives. With staff shortages getting worse, we need to see these rules scrapped immediately.

“Masks are the other frustration with the rules different for retail staff in every jurisdiction. In Victoria, it’s mandatory for workers in an indoor space that’s publicly accessible with no end in sight. In NSW, masks are encouraged for staff, while in Queensland they’re not required at all,” he said.

“Our members support masks being optional for retail staff, and that rule should be applied nationally over the current approach where the states and territories are going down their different Covid rabbit-holes. They are a barrier to workplace participation during our most acute labour shortages.

“Australians should be able to make up their own minds – if they feel safer in wearing a mask, then they can certainly wear a mask, but at this stage in the pandemic we don’t need government’s continuing with mandatory requirements.

“Vaccination rates are improving, people are getting their boosters and the fourth shot is now available. It’s clear that even with such high vaccination rates, we’re going to continue to see cases go through peaks and troughs. It’s time to truly live with Covid as many other economies have for many months,” Mr Zahra concluded.

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