Covid-19 coronavirus Delta outbreak: Fears hospitality industry will have to enforce mandatory sign-in rules

New Zealand’s hospitality sector is concerned that new mandatory record-keeping rules will put the onus on businesses, rather than customers, to make sure people scan or sign in.

It’s warning frontline staff will face aggression from customers who refuse to follow the rules.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced this afternoon it would be compulsory for busy places, like large gatherings and some businesses and service centres, to record the details of people coming in.

This would enable fast contact tracing, he said. “Speed means a lot.”

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It would be up to the host or business to make QR codes and sign-in sheets available, or record details another way. Further detail is coming including whether there will be penalties for businesses, or their customers, if they refuse to scan in.

The rules would apply at busy places like cafes, casinos and concerts, aged-care facilities, barbers, libraries and government agencies. Places that already require sign-in – such as gyms with swipe cards – wouldn’t need to change what they do.

Hipkins has since clarified retailers will be exempt.

“Ultimately we agreed that the compliance burden for small businesses would be too onerous”, he said in a statement.

“Our priority for mandatory record keeping is locations where mask wearing isn’t practical, for example where food and drink as being consumed, and where people gather in larger numbers. Experience here and abroad shows that these are the settings that prove the greatest challenge for contact tracers.”

While the business and hospitality sectors agree scanning is essential to help with contact tracing, but they say it shouldn’t be their job to enforce it.

Hospitality staff have already more aggressive and “tense” behaviour from customers since the start of the pandemic, Hospitality NZ chief executive Julie White said.

Today’s announcement was “the result of the low takeup of the team of five million of the lack of scanning…That non-compliance should not sit with us. It should be 50-50, the business should make [sign in and QR codes] available, but it really will be customers buying into this,” she said.

“We’re not the police. We’re not enforcement. So that detail on how that’s going to work, we’re really keen to hear more.”

Her organisation had been working with the Government on the issue of scanning but had been fighting against record keeping being made compulsory.

“We’re fully behind opening up as quickly as we can, as safely as we can. So unfortunately it’s the hospitality industry have put their hand up to do the right thing but they’re going to now burden [us with] the cost of that compliance.”

Hipkins said this afternoon the rules would apply at every alert level but there would be a seven-day grace period at each level change to allow businesses to get things sorted.

“We want to give businesses a bit of time to adjust…we do acknowledge it is an extra imposition on business, but a lot less than higher alert levels,” he said.

White said Hospitality NZ “really appreciated” the Government had listened to their concerns in that respect.

But she was disappointed hospitality would bear the compliance burden while retailers like supermarkets were exempt. Some businesses may need to hire more staff to enforce the rules – which would be very hard in the current labour market, she said.

Retail NZ Greg Harford was pleased retailers were exempt but agreed it was unfair for businesses to have to enforce sign-ins, which created conflict with some customers.

“We’ve already seen a big upsurge in aggression and sometimes violence over the last 18 months by customers who are aggrieved about things,” he said. “People are feeling a little stressed out perhaps by the whole situation we’re in. It’s not right that it’s taken out on retail and cafe workers.”

He was not aware of any business that had been penalised under the current system.

“Everyone is doing their best to comply with all the rules.”

The Act Party also came out against making businesses enforce sign-ins – saying instead there should instead be incentives for people to use the app.

Leader David Seymour suggested a Covid Tracer app lottery would encourage people to use it more.

“Instead of getting pinged to isolate, you might get pinged that you’ve won $1000.”

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