Businesses bearing brunt

Patrons line up outside the Golden Sheaf hotel. Image: Reddit
Patrons line up outside the Golden Sheaf hotel. Image: Reddit

Pharmacies and other businesses may not be able to stay open if the general public won’t change its behaviour to limit the spread of COVID-19, says one leading pharmacist

David Heffernan, president of the Pharmacy Guild’s NSW branch, says that many Australians have began to relax their efforts to social distance and employ other measures intended to manage the pandemic – and that businesses may be held accountable for their patrons’ actions.

“I’m very concerned about the insidious creep towards responsibility of the small business owner, as opposed to the citizen,” Mr Heffernan told the AJP.

He cited the case of the Golden Sheaf pub and garden bar in Double Bay, Sydney, which was fined $5,500 after a crowd was photographed lined up outside it last week waiting to get in.

An image of the crowd of an estimated 250 people not social distancing was uploaded to Reddit by user Bluetooth155, to the consternation of many.

Mr Heffernan said it was difficult for business owners to enforce social distancing and other measures intended to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“You’ve got a bunch of youths, you’ve got young people kissing, you can’t stop them. You don’t fine the pub, and you don’t fine a pharmacy for [the actions of] a dementia patient who does not have a clue what’s going on [with COVID-19],” he said.

“We’re all in this together, and that pub or the Crossroads did not want to be the centre of attention, or the hotspot for coronavirus.”

COVID-19 cases linked to the Crossroads Hotel in Casula have continued to grow, reaching 30 cases.

Mainstream media reported on Wednesday that a Melbourne man has been identified as the person who went to the hotel on July 3, inadvertently igniting the cluster.

Mr Heffernan commended a Pharmacy 4 Less store at Tahmoor south-west of Sydney, which took swift action this week when a staff member tested positive to the novel coronavirus. This case is linked to the Crossroads cluster and there is no suggestion that the worker caught it in the course of her employment.

“The pharmacy didn’t want people to test positive; they’ve taken action. The Crossroads Hotel has taken action,” Mr Heffernan said.

“Meanwhile we’ve got Government agencies allowing protest marches, and we’re opening up businesses and getting mixed messages.

“This is unfair, that the messages are being mixed.

“And we implore the public: we’re all in this together, and we’ve all got to do our part.

“But I’m worried that the media and the public are pointing the finger at small business, when on one hand, everyone wants us to be open again… so they can’t point fingers when we’re just doing our job.

“We can put up signs in the pharmacy, we can put tape on the floor for physical distancing, we can provide hand sanitiser, we can limit the number of paper scripts, we can limit the movement within the workspace of the dispensary.

“But we can’t police the public, and it’s not up to us to do that. So if it’s in the pharmacy or it’s a bunch of teenagers outside the pub not social distancing, they should fine the teenagers, not the pub.”

He said that if businesses are to be held responsible for their patrons failing to social distance, they should be provided with greater authority to manage their behaviour.

“People have relaxed, and I can understand that, because we all want to get back to normal,” Mr Heffernan said.

“Before, the public did their job. They need to do it again. I don’t like this blaming businesses for not social distancing; it’s a concerning creep.

“We have to be very careful in this space. It brings into play a lot of insurance and Fair Work implications and pharmacies may well not be able to open up shop if this kind of behaviour is sanctioned.”

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