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Covid-19 News Updates


Vaccine-only approach not enough for ongoing workplace safety post-lockdown, says OzSAGE

Vaccine-only approach not enough for ongoing workplace safety post-lockdown, says OzSAGE

Independent expert organisation OzSAGE has urged employers to extend the usual health and safety measures to areas like ventilation, workplace hygiene and mask wearing, emphasising "a vaccine-only approach is not enough" as workers return to offices from lockdowns.

Despite the high rate of vaccination in NSW, after Greater Sydney emerged from lockdown yesterday the multidisciplinary network of Australian experts is adamant that in addition to vaccine requirements, further optional health orders are necessary.

NSW has made it optional for office workers to wear masks as part of the Perrottet government’s revised roadmap, and has suggested scrapping general indoor mask mandates earlier than the originally proposed date of 1 December. 

However, Professor Raina Macintyre from OzSAGE says this decision could result in a dramatic surge in infections, and that masks should remain a core part of workplaces’ health response. 

“Once we accept that SARS-CoV-2 is airborne, it is clear that safe indoor air is essential and that masks indoors will play a role in safe working for some time,” says Macintyre. 

“The current vaccines are not enough to control the Delta variant - If we open up with safe indoor air and a vaccine-PLUS as a strategy, we may avoid a crippling cycle of repeated lockdowns.” 

OzSAGE says these measures are particularly important given that many small businesses do not have the adequate resources or information to be reasonably “COVID-safe”.  

As a result, workplace risk management now falls into the hands of workers and employers, which OzSAGE representative Professor Jason Monty says will ultimately benefit businesses if followed correctly. 

“Embedding layers of controls against pandemic disease into your business, such as safe air and masking when needed, will make it far more likely that your business will remain open, not be subject to disruptions, nor lose key staff or clients to illness,” Monty said. 

“Despite vaccination levels, all controls are important to protect health as immunity to the vaccine wanes, and reduce transmission.” 

Updated at 12.52pm AEDT on 12 October 2021.

ACT to leave lockdown on Friday as planned

ACT to leave lockdown on Friday as planned

The Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister Andrew Barr has today confirmed lockdown restrictions will ease at 11.59pm on Thursday 14 October as planned, after the jurisdiction passed the 70 per cent fully vaccinated milestone this week.

As of today, 72 per cent of the eligible population are fully vaccinated, meaning ACT residents will enjoy some freedoms come Friday once lockdown restrictions are lifted.

While those in the ACT will be free to leave their homes, visit loved ones and shop for non-essential items, there will be some restrictions in place for the meantime.

These restrictions include:

  • A 25 person capacity limit for indoor gatherings
  • A five person limit for at-home gatherings
  • Licensed venues can welcome five customers across the venue indoors or enforce the one person per four square metre rule (whichever is less)
  • However, up to 50 patrons will be able to sit outside at a licensed venue
  • Sports teams can resume training and pools will be able to reopen with limits
  • Hairdresser and personal care services can resume trading at a limited capacity

For the most part, non-essential retailers will return to a click and collect model until 29 October, but these businesses will be allowed to have up to two people from the same household book an appointment to shop in-person from this Friday.

Barr says this will enable certain retailers to operate, like car dealers performing test drives and clothing shops permitting customers try on clothes and shoes.

While Barr says he expects case numbers to rise once restrictions ease, modelling predicts the ACT will have 99 per cent of its eligible population fully vaccinated by the end of November.

“As we’ve seen around the world, and even in places that have very high vaccination levels, the virus will continue to spread,” Barr said.

“There will be pressure on the health system. There will be Canberrans who will need acute health care, even if they are fully vaccinated.

“Being fully vaccinated provides you with protection. It may not prevent you from getting the virus, but it does reduce the likelihood, and being fully vaccinated provides a very effective protection against severe disease.”

The Chief Minister also announced some changes to its border bubble with New South Wales, allowing people living in areas immediately surrounding the ACT to travel in and out of the state.

Details on which postcodes will be included in the expanded bubble will be announced on the ACT’s COVID-19 website later today.

“New South Wales residents in these regions, as well as the border postcodes that are already covered by the existing expanding exemption, will be permitted to travel to and from the ACT to undertake work or study to access schools or essential shopping and healthcare without needing to apply for an exemption,” Barr said.

"Residents in these postcodes can also enter the ACT to visit family and friends under the existing ACT gathering limits whether inside the household or outside."

Updated at 12.09pm AEDT on 12 October 2021.

NSW Government announces summer stock guarantee to give SMEs confidence

NSW Government announces summer stock guarantee to give SMEs confidence

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in New South Wales will soon be able to take advantage of a new ‘Summer Holiday Stock Guarantee’, giving businesses the confidence to open up now and plan for the future.

Under the program, eligible businesses with an annual turnover of between $75,000 and $50 million will be able to apply for a grant of up to $20,000 to compensate for the loss of perishable stock or claim $10,000 for reduced capacity to sell non-perishable items in the even they are affected by another lockdown.

In addition, the State Government is planning on expanding the Small Business Fees and Charges Rebate for all eligible SMEs for use until 30 June 2022.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the measures were key to giving businesses the confidence to reopen and helping to reboot the state economy.

“Now that we’ve reached the 70 per cent double vaccination target, it’s wonderful to see businesses reopening their doors and welcoming back customers,” Perrottet said. 

“These measures will give businesses and workers confidence to purchase stock and invest for the future knowing their doors will remain open as we get our economy firing again.” 

Treasurer Matt Kean said the Stock Guarantee of up to $20,000 would be available if non-essential SMEs were forced to shut their doors between 1 December 2021 to 31 January 2022 due to public health orders. 

“It’s devastating for businesses and their employees when they have to shut due to COVID but the grants will make it easier for businesses to manage their stock with confidence,” Mr Kean said.

“We want businesses to have the confidence to get out and spend and invest in their business ahead of the busy Christmas trading period.

“We expect the summer will be a bumper time for businesses as the people of NSW emerge from lockdown and look to support their local, and we want business owners to know we have their back.”

The changes have been welcomed by the state’s peak business organisation Business NSW.

“Business confidence has taken a hit in recent times and we know one of the pressure points for business has been being left with stock they can’t sell while their business is closed,” Business NSW chief executive Daniel Hunter said.

“Businesses can now plan and order the stock they the think they’ll need while their business begins to scale up again, with the knowledge the Government has a level of protection in place for them.

“This confidence will be particularly welcome in regional NSW, where lockdowns have had a dramatic impact on business prosperity – not only have they missed out on local trade but tourists from Sydney who stay and spend money in their town.”

For Ben Thompson, co-founder and CEO of people-management platform Employment Hero, the prospect of localised lockdowns would "understandably make employers in NSW nervous", but the announcement from the state government today is sure to ease some anxiety for SMEs.

"The national reopening plan, which was driven by the Doherty Institute, warned of “highly targeted lockdowns” beyond the 80% vaccination target. This is just the reality, which means today’s announcement by the NSW government looks like sensible policy to me and it’s certainly a win for small business owners," Thompson said.

"That $20,000 isn’t a lot in the context of a lockdown that lasts months and months. But if the NSW can keep future lockdowns not just targeted, but relatively short, that’ll mean they get more bang for their buck out of the loss of revenue support.

"The extra $500 for fees and charges rebates until the end of the year will also be handy. There’s going to be a lot more deliveries on the road, combined with a surge in consumer demand, which will create yet more deliveries. A little bit more help for things like toll road charges and council rates will be welcome."

Whether it is enough for businesses to prosper over summer, Thompson said it "depends on the amount of capital they’re sitting on or their ability and appetite to borrow".

"A lot of small businesses went under during the first 18-months of the pandemic because they had no choice but to whittle down their capital base," he said.

"Small business owners would be looking at their bank accounts and thinking to themselves, “Gee, I’d love to make those investments but I’ve got to spend the first few months building that breathing room back up again.

"Some small businesses will be blessed with some extra firepower, so I’d expect to see some companies go berserk this summer and all the power to them. But for those that are just able to start putting the pieces back together, I’m sure they’ll be happy to have survived and be operating again. That’s also an extraordinary achievement."

Updated at 9.38am AEDT on 12 October 2021.

Day one of NSW retail reopening “surprisingly smooth”

Day one of NSW retail reopening “surprisingly smooth”

Retailers in New South Wales have declared the first day of reopening post-lockdown a “fantastic start” according to the sector’s national representative, although the condition shoppers must prove their vaccination status has been a slight road bump for some.

Overall Australian Retailers Association (ARA) CEO Paul Zahra said the mood has been positive, with excited and mostly compliant and respectful behaviour observed as itchy feet made their way back into stores.

“It’s been a fantastic start,” Zahra said.

“NSW Retailers are relieved and excited to be open and customers are out and about taking full advantage of Freedom Day privileges – with hairdressers and beauty therapy one of the most popular destinations.  

“Naturally there were a few teething problems today with vaccine certification, with some customers still unsure how to access their certificate. However, most people have remained patient and overall, it’s been surprisingly smooth.”

Zahra said the day’s efforts are a credit to retailers and their teams, and also to the NSW government in keeping the roadmap on track. Pleasingly, there has been an overwhelming spirit of collaboration amongst shoppers. 

“It’s taken enormous effort on the part of NSW government and businesses to reach today’s milestone – and we can be proud of the results,” Zahra said.

“Today’s outcome is a great test-case for Victoria and we can feel confidently optimistic of a positive experience when retail reopens there.”

Zahra also encouraged retailers to ensure they are well-prepared for operating in this transitional period.

“Checking vaccination status is a new safety protocol and like QR codes it will take a little time for customers to adjust. Naturally, this will be an even smoother experience when the NSW COVID Safe app is integrated,” he said. 

“Retailers need to ensure they have taken ‘reasonable steps’ to ensure compliance and this includes things such as having clear signage at the entrance points and through the store, and training staff in how to check vaccination status.  

“Businesses should also have completed and updated their Covid safety plans which help inform government that they have thought about and taken their reasonable steps.”

Updated at 4.40pm AEDT on 11 October 2021.

NSW takes first step out of lockdown, Melbourne Cup to go ahead with vaccinated punters

NSW takes first step out of lockdown, Melbourne Cup to go ahead with vaccinated punters

After Sydneysiders spent more than 100 days in lockdown, the state will take its first steps back to normal life today with businesses reopening to fully vaccinated customers.

Businesses like cafes, restaurants, pubs, and retailers have reopened to fully vaccinated customers across NSW today after the state cracked the 70 per cent double dose milestone on Thursday last week.

In addition, up to 10 people can gather in homes or 30 outdoors, weddings and funerals can have up to 100 people in attendance, and swimming pools have reopened under changes made to the roadmap by new Premier Dominic Perrottet.

“As we re-open after more than 100 days we ask everyone to treat staff with kindness and respect when they ask you to check-in or see your vaccination certificate,” Perrottet said.

“Following these simple measures will help keep us all safe and keep us moving forward out of the pandemic.”

Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney Stuart Ayres welcomed the reopening and reminded people to act responsibly when going out.

“NSW has pulled together to get our vaccination rate to more than 70 per cent, which means we can begin the reopening process. We need the same spirit of cooperation to keep people safe and ensure that venues remain open,” Ayres said.

“Like many people, I can’t wait to have a beer and a schnitty at my local, but we all have a responsibility to stick by the rules. Book ahead, check-in with your QR code, show proof of vaccination, be respectful to staff and look after each other.”

The NSW Government has encouraged all businesses to visit nsw.gov.au to ensure they are complying with the 70 per cent roadmap.

Crowds to return for Melbourne Cup and concerts in Victoria

Up to 10,000 people will be allowed to descend on Flemington Racecourse on the first Tuesday in November after the Victorian Government announced changes to its reopening plans that will also benefit the state’s arts and music scene.

Further, subject to consideration of the venue’s COVIDSafe Plan and approval from the Chief Health Officer, several thousand people will be able to watch Victorian artists perform and celebrate the return of live music at one of Melbourne’s most iconic outdoor venues - Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Smaller gigs are planned around the state at the same time, subject to approval from the Chief Health Officer.

The alterations are part of Victoria’s ‘Vaccinated Economy’ trials, which will let more people safely attend venues and major events if fully vaccinated. These venues will test event settings attached to the 80 per cent double vaccination mark - a threshold the state believes will be achieved on or before 5 November.

The final two days of the Melbourne Cup Carnival – Oaks Day and Stakes Day – will also welcome up to 10,000 patrons if the 80 per cent double-jab threshold has been passed. Racing fans will be spread across a number of zones at Flemington in allocated seats, and will be required to wear masks and be fully vaccinated or holding a valid exemption.

These events will follow the first stage of trials under the 70 per cent double dose settings which kick off today at regional venues including cinemas, hotels, and cafes, as well as a gym, a church and a beauty clinic.

Some 15 venues and events in six local government areas will operate with higher capacity and density limits, including a midweek race meeting at Warrnambool on Thursday, 14 October.

The participants in the Vaccinated Economy trial are:

  • Bass Coast – North Pier Hotel in Cowes, Churchill Island Cafe
  • Buloke – Terminus Hotel in Wycheproof
  • East Gippsland – East Gippsland Art Gallery in Bairnsdale, Lakes Squash and Movie Theatre in Lakes Entrance, Wilson Property in Traralgon
  • Greater Bendigo – Anglican Church of Australia in Flora Hill, Bendigo Art Gallery, Village Cinemas in Bendigo, Body Fit Training in Bendigo
  • Pyrenees – Avoca Hotel
  • Warrnambool – Darlings of Beauty, Roberts One Real Estate, Warrnambool Racing Club (race meeting), Warrnambool Art Gallery.

The trials will allow real-world testing of the vaccine certification technology, confirm the best processes for establishing vaccination status, as well as fine-tuning training for staff and support for business owners and public communication of vaccine requirements.

Victorians attending a Vaccinated Economy trial business or event will be asked to show they are fully vaccinated with a COVID-19 digital certificate displayed through the Service Victoria app, Medicare app, or equivalent smartphone wallet, or present a printed version of their certificate or immunisation history statement, or provide evidence of a valid exemption.

Updated at 9.48am AEST on 11 October 2021.

This update is brought to you by Employment Hero.

Click here to go to Employment Hero’s COVID-19 Resource Hub for essential resources to help employers, managers and HR specialists navigate the ongoing pandemic. 


 

ATAGI recommends third booster shot for immunocompromised individuals

ATAGI recommends third booster shot for immunocompromised individuals

Australia’s advisory group on immunisations has today recommended individuals who are “severely immunocompromised” receive a third booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine two to six months after receiving the second.

The updated advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) was provided to address the risk of suboptimal or non-response to the standard two-dose schedule, and is intended to maximise the level of immune response to as close as possible to the general population.

As for which vaccine immunocompromised people should receive, ATAGI recommends an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) over AstraZeneca for the third dose.

However, ATAGI says “AstraZeneca can be used for the third dose for individuals who have received AstraZeneca for their first two doses if there are no contraindications or precautions for use, or if a significant adverse reaction has occurred after a previous mRNA vaccine dose which contraindicates further doses of mRNA vaccine”.

“The recommended interval for the third dose is two to six months after the second dose of vaccine,” says ATAGI.

“A minimum interval of four weeks may be considered in exceptional circumstances (e.g., anticipated intensification of immunosuppression, outbreaks). People who have had a second dose more than 6 months ago should receive a third dose whenever feasible.”

The vaccine advisory group does not recommend subsequent doses beyond the third at this point in time, but notes protection from three doses in severely immunocompromised individuals may still be lower than the general population.

As such, ATAGI recommends people continue risk mitigation strategies such as mask wearing and social distancing even after receipt of a third jab.

“ATAGI will continue to monitor the evidence around duration of protection and advise on the need for subsequent (booster) doses in immunocompromised populations to address waning of protection or risk from variants of concern,” says ATAGI.

“ATAGI will provide further advice on booster doses (including for healthcare workers, older adults and the general population) separately.”

Updated at 2.14pm AEST on 8 October 2021.

This update is brought to you by Employment Hero.

Click here to go to Employment Hero’s COVID-19 Resource Hub for essential resources to help employers, managers and HR specialists navigate the ongoing pandemic. 


 

Southeast SA regions see COVID restrictions wound back to Level 1

Southeast SA regions see COVID restrictions wound back to Level 1

The South Australian local government areas (LGAs) of Mount Gambier, Grant and Wattle Range are now subject to the same level of restrictions as the rest of the state after a brief COVID scare last week.

The three southeast LGAs are now subject to the following restrictions:

  • Three people per four square metre density requirements (for seated activities)
  • No communal consumption facilities
  • One person per two square metre density requirements (for non-seated activities)
  • One person per four square metre density requirements (for indoor fitness facilities)
  • Seated food and beverage consumption only for indoor defined public activities
  • COVID Management Plans required for events of more than 1,000 people
  • Shisha ban
  • Gathering at home cap: 20 (gatherings at residential premises, including residents of residential premises)
  • Private activity cap: 150 (private activities at non-residential premises)
  • Masks for high-risk settings
  • Masks for personal care services (except for the person receiving the service, if necessary for the provision of the personal care service)

The restrictions are in addition to existing SA restrictions:

  • Masks for health care services (except for the person receiving the service, if necessary for the provision of the health care service)
  • Masks for passenger transport services
  • Masks for indoor fitness facilities (except while exercising)
  • Masks for shared indoor public places (except bridal parties during ceremonies)
  • Restrictions on dancing and singing other than dancing at private functions and private activities & cap of 50 dancing
  • Private activities with food and beverage consumption whilst standing at 1/2 density and approved contact tracing system & cap of 150
  • Private functions with food and beverage consumption while standing at 1/2 density with approved contact tracing system & (when indoors) cap of 150 (at relevant or ongoing licensed premises.

Updated at 2.42pm AEDT on 8 October 2021.

This update is brought to you by Employment Hero.

Click here to go to Employment Hero’s COVID-19 Resource Hub for essential resources to help employers, managers and HR specialists navigate the ongoing pandemic. 


 

COVID-19 restrictions to ease in LGAs of Brisbane, Gold Coast, Logan and more from 4pm today

COVID-19 restrictions to ease in LGAs of Brisbane, Gold Coast, Logan and more from 4pm today

A number of Queensland local government areas (LGAs) will have restrictions eased from 4pm today in line with the rest of the state, after no locally acquired cases of COVID-19 were recorded overnight.

The LGAs of Brisbane, Gold Coast, Moreton Bay, Logan, Townsville and Palm Island will see some restrictions removed, allowing more people to gather at venues and permitting dancing in clubs.

On the advice of Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young, cafes and restaurants will return to one person per two square metres indoors and outdoors, and stadiums and events can have full capacity.

Up to 100 people can gather in homes, with no limit for people gathering in public spaces.

Visitors are once again permitted at aged care, correctional centres, hospitals and disability centres, and up to 200 people can attend funerals and weddings.

Some restrictions will remain, however, with Queenslanders still required to check-in at venues and wear masks where social distancing is not possible (like in shopping centres and on public transport).

“Because Queenslanders have done a great job, Dr Young has advised us this morning that those restrictions can ease,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

Updated at 12pm AEDT on 8 October 2021.

Returning Queensland residents to take part in home quarantine trial

Returning Queensland residents to take part in home quarantine trial

Queensland may have the nation's highest levels of net interstate migration as Australians in locked down areas pull up stumps to move to the Sunshine State, enticed by the affordability, climate and relatively free lifestyle, but it has not come without its costs.

One of those costs - or indeed deterrents - is hotel quarantine, but starting next week the state will start trialing a new home quarantine system to make life easier for new arrivals, provided they have been fully vaccinated with at least two weeks having passed since the second dose was received.

Following pilot programs in South Australia and New South Wales that will form the basis for a nationwide set-up once international borders reopen, from 11 October 1,000 returning Queensland by air will be given the opportunity to trial the new model.

"We are so excited for this trial of home quarantine to commence in Queensland where we will see up to 1,000 returning Queenslanders offered an opportunity to participate," Minister for Health Yvette D’Ath said.

"On 11 October, Queensland residents currently located in a COVID-19 hotspot, who have already applied to return home, will be invited to trial this new model.

"Those who have already applied to return to Queensland will be contacted by the Government to ascertain their eligibility to participate."

Minister D’Ath said it was important for participants in the trial to take it seriously.

"We ask that those Queenslanders taking part in the trial take the requirements of quarantining at home very seriously, to give the trial the best chance of success and possible future expansion," she said.

She said participants would need to nominate their quarantine address, which must be located within one of the eight approved local government areas (LGAs) - Brisbane (excluding Moreton Island), Moreton Bay, Sunshine Coast, Noosa, Ipswich, Logan, Gold Coast, Redland (excluding the islands of the Redland LGA).

"These Local Government Areas have been chosen because they are within safe driving distance of the port of arrival, in this case being Brisbane Airport," Minister D'Ath said.

"Where a returning Queensland resident has nominated a private residence to complete the home quarantine trial, any other people who normally reside at the same location, and who will remain there during the quarantine period, will also need to quarantine.

"As all Queenslanders would want, strict criteria must be met by the person taking part in the home quarantine trial."

Apart from vaccination and the need for them to arrive by air, other requirements for trial participants include the following:

  • Have returned a negative PCR test within 72 hours of entry;
  • Use the home-quarantine check-in system;
  • Quarantine at home for 14 days;
  • Subject themselves to tests on days one, five and 12; and
  • Have a suitable home with a direct entry.

Interstate arrival statistics released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in August show a net migration into Queensland of more than 7,000 in the March quarter and 9,763 in the December quarter. These figures are 5-7 times the state with the second-highest net migration rate - Western Australia.

Updated at 3.23pm AEDT on 7 October 2021.

This update is brought to you by Employment Hero.

Click here to go to Employment Hero’s COVID-19 Resource Hub for essential resources to help employers, managers and HR specialists navigate the ongoing pandemic. 

Hardship panel for NSW businesses that “fell through the cracks” welcomed by peak body

Hardship panel for NSW businesses that “fell through the cracks” welcomed by peak body

A new ‘Hardship Review Panel’ established in New South Wales to consider financial support for businesses that did not quality for existing COVID-19 assistance measures has been welcomed by the state’s peak business organisation.

The panel will assess, on a case-by-case basis, businesses which did not meet the eligibility requirements for the 2021 COVID-19 Business Grant, Micro-business Grant and JobSaver payments.

It will consider a broad range of factors in determining whether a business has experienced financial hardship, with the Chief Commissioner of Revenue NSW to be ultimately responsible and make the final determination for applications.

Factors that the hardship panel will consider include whether the business is an employer, in a highly impacted industry, in a local government area (LGA) of concern or has unavoidable costs for which no other support is available.

Businesses will be back-paid to the fortnight where they can demonstrate the required decline in turnover with the Panel. Hardship applications for JobSaver are now open with hardship COVID business grants and Microbusiness grants to open later this month.

Minister for Finance and Small Business Damien Tudehope said the Review Panel would help those businesses experiencing genuine financial hardship that were previously ineligible for support payments and grants.

“COVID-19 has affected so many businesses in NSW and even though we have a number of support measures in place, there are still some businesses under severe financial strain that aren’t eligible for assistance for a number of reasons. We want to plug that gap as much as we can,” Tudehope said.

Business NSW chief executive Daniel Hunter said the Panel is an important initiative and one the organisation is “more than happy to support”.

“There is concern amongst the business community that some may ‘fall through the cracks’ when it comes to the support packages,” Hunter said

“Establishing a panel to assess each case that doesn’t automatically fit the criteria gives business the confidence to put their case forward.

“The pandemic has shown that different industries have been impacted in different ways, and different parts of the state have been impacted at different times.”

Updated at 12.27pm AEDT on 7 October 2021.

This update is brought to you by Employment Hero.

Click here to go to Employment Hero’s COVID-19 Resource Hub for essential resources to help employers, managers and HR specialists navigate the ongoing pandemic. 


 

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