Proposal by Restaurant and Catering Australia to require those who don’t have the COVIDSafe tracking app to provide their personal details to staff at restaurants and cafes is silly, oppressive and down right dangerous.

May 4, 2020 |

In the 7 or so weeks of lock downs of varying degrees of intensity there has sprung up a strain of virtue signalling where intrepid souls have come up with more and more intrusive and frankly ridiculous ways of demonstrating how they are doing the right thing to beat the demon virus. That has commonly meant tormenting fellow Australians with petty displays of colonel blimpery. In its milder forms it is hyper compliance with social distancing. A particularly frantic employee at Haighs in Hawthorn nipping in between customers ensuring they do not move from x’s on the floor, scolding them when they took a foot wrong, and doing quick 1.5 m checks with out stretched arms is a favourite memory. It is a good time for those who harbour a petty beaurocrat in their soul.  In its more extreme forms it involves making up legislative prescriptions that just don’t exist.

But some proposals which try to be seen to do the right thing are not just petty and irritating they are down right dangerous and oppressive.  The proposal spruiked by Restaurant and Catering Australia CEO Wes Lambert to require Australian’s who don’t down load the COVIDSafe tracking app and who want to use a restaurant or cafe to give their personal information to the staff fits that description to a tee.  It may not constitute a technical breach of clause 8 of the Biosecurity (Human Biosecurity Emergency)(Human Coronavirus with Pandemix Potential) (Emergency Requirements – Public Health Contact Information Determination 2020 which prohibits coercising the use of COVIDSafe App but it is in breach of the spirit of that law. 

One can only hope that Wes Lambert was suffering temporary relevance deprivation syndrome which prompted him to advocate this breath takingly stupid, utterly unAustralian and pernicious proposal. 

The proposal is reported in the Australian article Coronavirus Australia: No app? Leave your name and number whichprovides:

Australians could be asked to give their name and phone number to front-of-house staff at restaurants and cafes if they do not have the COVIDSafe tracking app, as the industry unveils a blueprint for reopening in early June with about half as many diners.

Restaurant and Catering Australia CEO Wes Lambert has submitted reopening guidelines to national cabinet, which was reviewed last week, and is working with the Queensland government this week to reopen the industry next month.

The suite of “practical, low-cost measures” advocated by Mr Lambert include a 1.5m distancing rule between tables – more relaxed than national cabinet’s one person per 4 sqm rule – disposable menus, no condiments on tables, hand sanitisers throughout the restaurant or cafe and social distancing in waiting areas.

If a person does not have the COVIDSafe app on their smartphone, Restaurant and Catering Australia wants diners to “sign in” to a restaurant and provide their name and number so they can be contacted if another patron later finds out they have contracted the coronavirus.

The legislation governing the app states a person cannot be refused entry to any premises if they have not downloaded the tool.

“It’s not a complicated thing. It’s an ‘I don’t have the COVIDSafe app, I’ll give you my details quickly so I can sit down for an hour’. We fully advocate the tracking app, in the absence of that the best practice is tracking or tracing,” Mr Lambert said.

Having 1.5 metres between tables would reduce a shop’s capacity to 50 or 60 per cent, Mr Lambert said, which was “better” than a 25 per cent capacity rate he predicted under the one person per 4 sqm rule.

“At 25 per cent capacity they just can’t open or can’t make money or trade effectively,” he said.

“Many restaurants pivoted and brought on take away, grocery and self-delivery and app-delivery. That will be a part of dining during the COVID recovery and beyond.”

The Australian understands there are expectations in some quarters of the restaurant and catering industry there will not be a 100 per cent occupancy rate until there is a vaccine.

Industry and Science Minister Karen Andrews on Monday said the CSIRO could have a coronavirus vaccine ready to be rolled out within 10-15 months.

The 4 sqm rule “will be the new normal for a while” for retailers, Australia Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra said, as he reviews “best practice principles” to help the sector’s reopening.

“Whilst we’d like to think it’s business as usual, it’s really business as unusual,” Mr Zahra said.

“That may mean social distancing markers on the floor, hand sanitiser, to other ways of retailing like click-and-collect, kerbside assist, where you order online and collect on the kerb. We’re looking at all sorts of avenues to get retailers back in place as quickly as possible.”

Retailers are also considering having Perspex shields at the cash register and no cash sales.

Restaurant and Catering Australia will push to access the government’s $1500 fortnightly JobKeeper payments beyond the scheduled cut-off point at the end of September, for as long as businesses can prove their revenue has reduced by at least 30 per cent compared to the same time last year.

“Restaurants are going to need those safety net (measures) from the government,” Mr Lambert said.

“They’ll need JobKeeper, BAS top ups (referred to as cash boost payments) and a mandatory code of conduct (for commercial tenancies) past the 27 September termination of those incentives because the domestic travel will be down until the borders reopen and confidence returns and the international borders are reopened in 2021.

“When you walk into an office you know everyone who’s there. When you walk into a retail store you don’t have to touch anything. You can walk around the store and just look or in the grocery store pick up the items you want to buy.

“In a restaurant there are dozens of touch points and you’re there for one or two hours. We want patrons to feel safe about dining out.”

Restaurant and Catering Australia proposals to keep restaurants and cafes “COVID safe”:

•1.5m between tables

•All patrons must have the COVIDSafe app or record their name and number at the place they dine in so they can be contacted later if needed

•Social distancing in waiting areas

•Removing the limit on ‘tap and go’ payments, having wipes available for patrons to wipe down the cash register keypad before use

•No condiments on tables

•Disposable or chalkboard menus, or laminated if they can be cleaned

•Commercial dishwashers that can sanitise cutlery and crockery to 80 degrees, or recyclable cutlery and crockery

•Hand sanitisers throughout the location

•Staff practising WHO and state/federal health guidelines – i.e. wiping down tables and chairs between each patron, no bar service

The evil of this ridiculous proposal is in its implementation.  How do staff determine whether someone has or has not downloaded the app.  Do they check individuals phones?  If so by what power.  And what will they discover as they look at someone’s phone. Not everyone wants to share what apps they use.  Not everyone wants a private photo used as wallpaper to be viewed by virtual strangers.  If the condition is non entry to an establishment that is discriminatory.  What of those who do not have mobile phones?  Are they now expected to hand over their personal information to staff willy nilly. 

And how is this personal information going to be stored.  Where is it going to be stored.  As described it will be a sheet at front of counter of a restaurant.  What could possibly go wrong there?!? How long is it going to be stored?  Who will the information be provided to?  What data security measures will be put in place to secure that data?  Are these cafes and restaurants going to comply with the minimum Australian Privacy Principle standards?  It is a recipe for a disaster, if not many disasters. 

One can only hope this Restaurant and Catering Australia proposal is taken out to the kitchen and diced into tiny pieces and then put into a compactor and sent to a landfill.

Meanwhile Mr Lambert should have a BEX and a good lie down. 

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