'Daunting but exciting': After more than 100 days in lockdown, NSW businesses reopen

Stay-at-home orders ended on Monday for fully vaccinated NSW residents who have been in lockdown for more than 100 days.

Hair salon Edwards and Co say they are almost booked out to the end of the year as people priortise getting a haircut.

Hair salon Edwards and Co say they are almost booked out to the end of the year as people priortise getting a haircut. Source: SBS News

As NSW opens up on Monday, businesses are facing the thrilling yet daunting task of welcoming back desperately needed customers amid a barrage of new restrictions.

Scott Morrison congratulates NSW on reopening

Gyms, cafes, restaurants, pools, shops, hairdressers and beauticians will all reopen within hours to fully vaccinated people, who will be allowed to venture outside their LGA or more than five kilometres from home for the first time in months.

Indoor and outdoor gatherings will also be permitted for those who are double dosed, with caps at 10 and 30 people respectively.

The welcome step comes after the state passed its 70 per cent double-dose vaccination rate early last week.

'A bit daunting' 

David Bregg manages Sambandha, a Nepalese fusion restaurant in Auburn in western Sydney that is popular among the community's many local Nepalese residents.

He says before the lockdowns endured during the pandemic, his business has a “good turnover and was doing very well".

But he describes the last few months as “extremely difficult and disheartening”.

“We’ve blown everything out of our bank accounts. We haven’t been able to keep on top of our bills, we’ve gone further into debt,” he told SBS News.

While the restaurant has kept a “trickle of money coming in” and staff employed through online and telephone orders, he was forced to close his smaller restaurant in Hurstville in southern Sydney, as well as his food court outlet.

Ahead of the reopening at 11.30am, Mr Bregg and his team have been busy buying up food in bulk, tidying up and setting tables.

“There’s a fair bit of work to do. It’s a bit daunting to open up with these new rules but very exciting to open up as well," he said.

“Gearing up, I expect to be quite busy again. We’ll be able to open up pretty much as normal for the outdoors but indoors I don’t think we’ll be able to use as much.”

Mr Bregg expects it will "take a while" for his business to make up the losses resulting from NSW's lockdowns.
Source: Supplied/SBS News

New restrictions permit hospitality premises to serve one person per 4 square metres indoors and one person per 2 square metres outdoors, with everyone to be seated while consuming alcohol.

Mr Bregg said it will be a challenge to adapt to the new normal, including the checking of all customers’ vaccination statuses. And he expects it is going to take some time to make up for lost profits.

“It’s taken us a while to recover from the first lockdown. We were just starting to get back on our feet and this really knocked us back again a long way and I think many businesses probably won’t recover," he said.

On Sunday, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet urged people to treat others with kindness as everyone gets used to the new normal.

"Please treat everyone with kindness and respect. I know there is going to be some challenges as we go through this time. We are the only state that has gone down this path early - that has opened up to those that are double vaccinated."

'Happy and excited'

Firas Jirjees, owner of FJ Fitness in the western Sydney suburb of Fairfield, is bracing for what he expects to be a "busy day" on Monday.

An award-winning bodybuilder, Mr Jirjees migrated to Australia from Iraq in 2014 before opening his business the following year.

After weathering the worst months in his business' six-year history, Mr Jirjees says he is thrilled to finally reopen, albeit to strict restrictions of only one person per 4 square metres of space.

“I’m very happy and excited to open tomorrow for our customers since we were in lockdown for a long time. I’m happy to get back to business and give our customers a chance to improve themselves," he told SBS News.

Mr Jirjees says his business's COVID-safe plans include daily cleaning and sanitising as well as providing cleaning products for customers.
Source: Supplied/SBS News

His gym's COVID-safe plans include daily cleaning and sanitising as well as providing cleaning products for customers.

“Tomorrow will be a busy day for us but already I have four staff and we’re ready to take all the vaccine certificates. It will be a hard day for us but it’s ok, we’re going to do it.”

Jacob Faour, head of operations for hairdressers Edwards and Co, has been fielding an onslaught of bookings from clients ahead of the reopening.

“They're definitely desperate. We had like 1,300 emails, we had 2,000 clients to rebook," he told SBS News.

“We’ve had requests of people offering to get their hair done in the park. We’re pretty much booked for the rest of the year. The logistics is a bit tricky but we’re a big team.”

Mr Faour said the team was feeling a mixture of excitement and nerves after being closed for so many weeks, but says the business really needs to welcome customers again.

Mr Faour says the business has been fielding an onslaught of bookings from clients head of reopening.
Source: Supplied/SBS News

“It’s been tricky on the financial side, we’ve still got outgoing bills, our rent is still there.”

Hairdressers, spas, nail salons, beauty salons, waxing salons, tanning salons, tattoo parlours and massage parlours from Monday can permit one person per 4 square metres or five people on the premises, whichever is the lesser

Mr Faour admits the new caps will be “quite tricky”.

“At one of our locations in Crown Street [in the inner Sydney suburb of Surry Hills], it’s 65 chairs. We do anywhere from 500 to 600 clients a week. We’re hoping that [this cap] is only for a week or two until we get to 80 per cent.”

At 80 per cent, the customer limit for hairdressers and other personal services businesses is expected to disappear.

For more information on the restrictions in NSW when the state reaches its 80 per cent vaccination target, click here

‘Trepidation’ in the regions

But while case numbers are declining in NSW overall as vaccination rates soar, infections in some regional areas are on the increase.

In the Hunter region, 170km north of Sydney, infection rates are at a record high while vaccination rates are lagging, with local authorities blaming a lack of supply.

Newcastle Deputy Lord Mayor Declan Clausen says not all parts of NSW have been given the same opportunity to vaccinate.

“I think it’s important to recognise that the 70 per cent double dose rate really is Sydney at 70 per cent. It is not reflective at all of the situation here in the regions," he told SBS News.

Newcastle Deputy Lord Mayor Declan Clausen says not all parts of NSW have been given the same opportunity to vaccinate.
Source: Supplied/SBS News

As of Friday 8 October, 90.1 per cent of residents aged 16 across the state have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 72.8 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Mr Clausen said the region was falling behind in terms of second vaccine doses, with the Hunter's double dose rate hovering at around 60 per cent and as low as the high 40 per cent in some parts of the region.

“It’s absolutely concerning. We need to see a plan from state and federal governments about how they’re going to work with regional communities to ensure communities can access that important second vaccine dose," he said.

Mr Clausen says this vaccination rate means “there’s a degree of trepidation” in the Newcastle community about the state's reopening, with the health system expecting a significant rise in new cases, especially in lower socioeconomic areas where many new COVID-19 cases were emerging.

“That makes the reopening really quite complicated," Mr Clausen said.

Trials of the Service NSW app update

Regional trials of Service NSW's app update, which will simultaneously 'check in' a patron and verify their vaccination status, are underway in Wagga Wagga, Lismore, Tamworth and Port Macquarie.

But the update will not be ready in time for the limited reopening of the state. Instead Customer Services Minister Victor Dominello is working towards rolling it out on Monday 18 October.

"This will not come into place until next week, because we have got to make sure we have the privacy and security settings in place for statewide rollout," Mr Dominello told reporters.

"We are moving heaven and earth to deliver this for the people of our state because it is going to be a seamless experience using your Service NSW app."

In the meantime, NSW residents are asked to request a paper copy of their vaccination certificate from Services Australia or download the digital certificate from the Express Plus Medicare app.

For more information on the rules for NSW business from Monday 11 October, click here.

Published 10 October 2021 at 7:18pm, updated 10 October 2021 at 7:20pm
By Abbie O'Brien, Caroline Riches
Source: SBS News