Premier Daniel Andrews said people who saw something wrong should complain to the coronavirus hotline, and it would be referred to the most appropriate agency among Victoria Police, WorkSafe or Health Department authorised officers. A complaint about a hairdresser, for instance, would be treated differently to a call about an abattoir.
“It is important to acknowledge that some things in this are simple and others are not simple,” Mr Andrews said. “By their very nature, they must be complex because what we are up against is complex.”
When asked directly whether Victoria Police would enforce social distancing at cafes and pubs, the Premier said: “It is difficult to give you a blanket answer, that is what I say … Sometimes it is a matter for the police and other times it will not be.”
Blurred lines of responsibility between government agencies in Victoria’s botched hotel quarantine program have been cited as a key contributor to its failure, which resulted in the state’s catastrophic second wave of the coronavirus. In NSW police deal with breaches in non-licensed venues such as hairdressers, while Liquor & Gaming NSW oversaw enforcement in licensed premises, a spokeswoman said.
The government said DHHS authorised officers and Victoria Police were conducting random checks on businesses, which can be fined up to $9913 for refusing or failing to comply with public health directions.
Around Melbourne on Wednesday night and Thursday, some people were seen in pubs sitting shoulder-to-shoulder and not social distancing.
Katey Randall, who works for a company that helps businesses become COVID compliant, said she had visited a hairdresser and beauty salon in a private capacity on Wednesday morning and had not been asked to provide any details for contact tracing.
“I think it’s one thing that should be highlighted [to the government]. Where’s the contact tracing?” she said.
The Restaurant and Catering Industry Association and the Victorian Chamber of Commerce warned businesses they must follow rules that are “non-negotiable”.
Last month – with the government under pressure to relax the lockdown – the VCCI assured authorities that businesses would “take every precaution to prevent” a third wave, and that the hospitality industry should be “trusted” to operate safely.
On Thursday, the chamber’s chief executive Paul Guerra said businesses and customers had a responsibility to follow the rules and return to a COVID-normal economy.
“Our call is to every business owner to take COVID-safe plans seriously and put them in place,” Mr Guerra said.
“Because if they continue to exploit the rules, not only would they be outed on social media, they can expect their customers to drop, and worse they can expect relevant authorities to [enforce the rules].
“No one wants to envisage a third wave, and the only way we can protect against that, is businesses and everyday Victorians doing the right thing.”
Foot traffic through some Melbourne CBD streets was back to 80 per cent of pre-COVID levels on Wednesday as shops, cafes and restaurants were allowed to reopen.
Wes Lambert, chief executive of the Restaurant and Catering Industry Association, said it was “super important” that as customer numbers increased, businesses implemented their COVID-safe plans.
“We call upon the owners and the industry to ensure they are following COVID-safe guidelines so that the industry can stand out as the most COVID-safe, can stand out as a leader in keeping case numbers down, and ensuring there is not a third wave,” Mr Lambert said.
Mr Andrews urged anyone who spotted businesses not following the rules to phone the coronavirus hotline, saying “it’s everybody’s business”.
Victoria recorded three new cases on Thursday, including a young girl connected to a coronavirus outbreak in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
But Mr Andrews said it may turn out to be a one-case day as the two other positive tests may be instances of viral shedding from old infections.
Mr Andrews also reiterated his comments from the previous day that Victoria was creating a tailored QR check-in tool – either an app or a website – that will operate within the state’s existing digitised contact tracing software developed by US tech firm Salesforce.
The ACT Health Department had offered Victoria its existing app, but Mr Andrews said his government had opted to design a system that worked in co-ordination with the state’s existing software rather than use an off-the-shelf product that might add another layer of software to contact tracing.
In NSW, a number of government agencies have also been appointed to enforce COVID-19 Public Health Orders including NSW Health, NSW Police, NSW Food Authority, Liquor & Gaming NSW, SafeWork NSW and NSW Fair Trading.
- The coronavirus hotline is 1800 675 398, WorkSafe’s advisory line is 1800 136 089 and the Victoria Police Assistance Line is 131 444
Sumeyya is a state political reporter for The Age.
Rachael Dexter is a breaking news reporter at The Age.
Anna is an education reporter at The Age.