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COVID-19 shopping centres and health advice – a victory for commonsense

Media statement | 25 June 2020 

Statement from Gerard Dwyer, National Secretary the SDA – the union for retail, warehouse and fast food workers

The SDA welcomes the decision of the Andrews government, with the support of the Shopping Centre Council of Australia, to strengthen health advice to people presenting at COVID testing stations at Victorian shopping centres.

As a result of discussions with the SDA and the SCCA, the government is distributing signs at testing stations in shopping centres around Victoria appealing to people being tested to: “Stay home until you get your results. Please do not enter the shops.”

This is in line with advice from the health authorities that people, who have even the

mildest symptoms of COVID-19, stay at home, and that those who do present for testing return home immediately to await their test results.

This new and welcome initiative follows concerns raised by the SDA which was told by health professionals at car park testing stations that up to half the people presenting either then went into the shopping centres or emerged from the shopping centres to be tested.

Clearly this is out of line with the advice of the health authorities.

As a result of the discussions, the government has also agreed that messaging boards on the approaches to relevant testing stations will carry the words: “If you’ve been tested, go straight home and isolate”.

These are welcome developments, but more needs to be done to ensure the health of shoppers and retail staff in shopping centres.

Specifically, shopping centres management must start:

  • conducting customer counts at entrances and car parks (as is the case in major supermarkets, for example) so they know how many people are in shopping centres at any one time
  • consistently enforcing the 4 square metre rule in shopping centre common areas

These health measures were agreed jointly by the Shopping Centres Council, the

Australian Retailers Association and the National Retailers Association in discussions with the SDA at the beginning of May – two months ago.

Neither measure has been activated, increasing the risk that shopping centres become sources of community transmission of COVID-19 for retail workers and shoppers alike.

After the events in Victoria last weekend, they are not risks worth taking.

The SDA estimates, for instance, that no fewer than 70 thousand people visited Chadstone last Saturday.

The danger is not only that people will get sick unnecessarily, but it is also inviting renewed government measures forcing the shutdown of shopping centres.

That would mean more job losses for retail workers, shops shutting again and lost revenue for the shopping centres.