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‘No-brainer’: Retailers encouraged to start reopening stores

Founder Mark Mezrani told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald he had made the decision to reopen stores following the Prime Minister’s comments about puzzles last week, which he declared to be “absolutely essential”.

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Additionally, the rapid compliance and education around social distancing requirements also made it easier for Kidstuff to reopen, he said, though the business has had to implement strict measures to ensure staff are protected.

“We’ve got hand sanitiser, gloves and perspex screens coming,” he said. “Its much safer to visit a Kidstuff store than a Woolies, for example, as we’ve only got two or three people in the store.”

ASX-listed retailer Accent Group also said it was having internal discussions about getting “a handful” of stores opened again, with chief executive Daniel Agostinelli saying he was buoyed by reports Australia was flattening the curve.

“If we can learn how to retail in this new space with very clear protection methods for our team and customers, then we would like to [reopen] sooner rather than later,” he said.

Accent Group shut its 522 stores, which include Platypus, Timberland and Athletes Foot, in late March and stood down about 4500 staff.

Russell Zimmerman, the executive director of the Australian Retailing Association, echoed the optimism among retailers, telling The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald if businesses could comfortably comply with the government’s social distancing laws, there was “no reason” to not reopen.

Scentre CEO Peter Allen has told retailers to re-open their stores if they can.

Scentre CEO Peter Allen has told retailers to re-open their stores if they can.Credit:Louise Kennerley

“If you listen to what the Prime Minister has said, he made a comment that he wanted businesses to continue as long as possible,” he said.

“If a business can make sure they’re covering off on social distancing requirements and staff are not at great risk, there’s no reason they shouldn’t open, in my opinion.”

Major landlord Scentre Group made a similar call for retailers to resume trading, with chief executive Peter Allen telling shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting on Wednesday if retailers can cover staffing costs through JobKeeper wage subsidies, it “makes sense” for them to open.

If we can learn how to retail in this new space with very clear protection methods … then we would like to [re-open] sooner rather than later.

Accent Group chief executive Daniel Agostinelli

“If you are getting the government support and have not been asked to close, its a no-brainer to reopen,” he said.

But infectious disease experts have warned a rush to reopen stores could contribute to a “secondary wave” of infections, with Philip Russo, Associate Professor at Monash University and president of the Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control, advising against it.

“As the modelling showed yesterday, to avoid a disaster we need quarantine/isolation and social distancing. Relaxing of the social distancing (e.g. opening up retail stores) could spark a secondary wave,” he said.

“It’s possible at some stage in the future a staged rollback of social distancing could be considered, but we would want some reassurance that if a second wave started we could cope with the demands on health services.”

with Carolyn Cummins.

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