Anti-vaxxers might make a lot of noise online but they are a noisy minority in reality, as big Perth hospitality venues have found out.
Venues with a capacity of more than 500 people have been the canaries in the coalmine as Western Australia readies for wide-reaching vaccine mandates to come into effect on January 31.
Cafes, restaurants, gyms and even bottleshops will require proof of vaccination from visitors under the new rules as the McGowan government heaps pressure on the remaining portion of the community who haven’t had the COVID-19 vaccine.
Big hotels and events which have been required to ask patrons for proof of vaccination for the past few weeks have so far fielded few complaints, a little bit of anti-vax pushback, and some confusion.
South Perth pub The Windsor’s hotel manager Max Fox-Andrews said the proof-of-vaccine requirements hadn’t been problematic for the most part and most visitors were happy to abide by the rules; “they understand the situation we’re in currently”.
Mr Fox-Andrews said most visitors had received both vaccine doses, and there were only a couple of incidents where people were turned away.
It was largely the same story at The Old Courthouse in Fremantle, where general manager Andrew Lambie said so far only two couples had to be turned away because they didn’t have their proof of vaccination with them.
Most were appreciative the vaccine mandate was being followed, and Mr Lambie said staff were willing to help those who weren’t tech-savvy access their proof of vaccination.
However, a video uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday night where a man filmed himself challenging staff at The Old Courthouse over the vaccine mandate showed there was still an outspoken group not happy with the new rules.
In the video, the man peppered security and staff with questions and faux-legalese over the mandate before police officers escorted him out as other patrons jeered and heckled in the beer garden.
Mr Lambie said the man “was out to make a scene” and had started recording before even entering the venue.
“He knew what he was doing,” Mr Lambie said.
The video had drummed up a little over 200 views on Wednesday afternoon before it was made private.
But it highlighted an issue many venues reported; those who were against the vaccine mandate targeting venue staff over a rule they had no choice but to enforce.
“We’re here to do our job … it shouldn’t be taken out on us,” Mr Lambie said.
Similarly, at The Windsor, Mr Fox-Andrews said some of the minority who were turned away responded with foul language.
“We’re just trying to get through this together and follow the mandates,” he said.
Confusion over mandate start-date
Back in Fremantle, some young people were turned away from a rescheduled New Year’s Eve party on Saturday, confused by when the double-dose vaccination rules were due to come into effect.
The Gog Block party – run by the crowd behind The Old Synagogue at Esplanade Park in the heart of the Port City – was supposed to be held across New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day before the announcement of new cases in the community and a last-minute ban on big gigs and dancing crowds stopped the plans in their tracks.
It was rescheduled and combined into one big event on Saturday, January 15, but Old Synagogue owner Ross Drennan said some 18 to 25-year-olds were turned away because they had only received one dose of the vaccine.
Mr Drennan said there was some confusion following WA Premier Mark McGowan’s press conference last week, as many believed the double-dose vaccine mandate came into effect on January 31 and weren’t aware it already applied to big events.
It meant about 1000 tickets had to be refunded; a hit to an event which had already dropped from 16-17,000 tickets down to 9000. Only about 6000 turned up on Saturday, Mr Drennan said.
Mr Drennan said more staff were put on entry at the event to check proof of vaccination. Like other venues, there were reports of people having a go at staff over the mandates.
“You get the odd person who says you shouldn’t be making these mandates when in fact we’ve got nothing to do with them,” he said.
At The Windsor, Mr Fox-Andrews believed the proof-of-vaccination requirements should have been across the board earlier to make it fairer for big venues.
“I just wish [Mr McGowan had] made everyone be compliant from the get-go,” he said.
The road ahead
The state government is facing mounting calls to detail its plan for businesses, health and education, and the wider community when borders open on February 5.
It is a sentiment shared by the hospitality sector.
Mr Drennan said mandates and restrictions were hurting businesses, but he was most concerned about the lack of certainty post-February 5.
“I’d feel a lot more confident if there were a bunch of rules agreed to … and we had time to work towards that and prepare for that,” he said.
It was hard to predict what would arise once the borders came down and COVID-19 inevitably began spreading in the community, Mr Drennan said; “it all depends on what the roadmap is, how many restrictions are in place.”
On Wednesday, Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said the Omicron strain was likely already spreading in the WA community, and flagged a change to the requirement for essential workers who were close contacts to have to isolate for 14 days.
“We need to continue essential public services and continue the community running, so there will be definition around essential workers … it will be broader than health care workers,” she said.
WA has one million rapid antigen tests in stock, and is expected to have “several million” by February 5, Ms Sanderson said.
Liberal leader David Honey said the government owed members of Parliament, and the public, the information they needed to plan ahead.
“Despite being just under three weeks from reopening, the public still has no clarity on what life will look like after the hard border ends, and the Premier and Minister Sanderson seem in no rush to clear it up,” he said.
Mr Fox-Andrews said there was “anxiety in the air” among suppliers and staff, with many looking at supply chain issues in the eastern states arising from spreading COVID-19 infections and people requiring to self-isolate after being deemed close contacts.
“[The border opening] had to happen eventually, we can’t sit in the bubble forever,” he said.
“Around the world people are living normally – or as close to normal as can be.”
with Heather McNeill