The worrying spike of coronavirus infections in Victoria has done little to deter people from heading out to crowded shopping centres – sparking fears among retail workers.
The staff concerns come after weeks of reports of packed shopping centres and little social distancing as coronavirus measures have eased.
Now the SDA, the union for retail workers, says scores of people have been seen leaving testing centres at some of Melbourne’s biggest shopping malls and heading straight for the shops.
In other cases, the SDA said, people have gone shopping first and then gone to get a coronavirus test. Both practices defy state and federal health directions for people who think they have COVID-19 symptoms to leave home only to get tested, and then to isolate until their results are in.
“This short-sighted failure invites new government restrictions, jeopardising retail workers’ health and jobs, as well as the future business of shops and the shopping centres themselves,” SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer said.
At Chadstone – Melbourne’s biggest shopping centre – nurses at the testing station told union representatives they did 300 tests on Saturday. They said about half of those people either came directly from the mall or went there straight after their test.
The SDA estimates there were 70,000 shoppers at Chadstone on Saturday.
The union’s concerns come after Victoria reported 16 more coronavirus cases on Monday – continuing a worrying trend of double-digit daily increases in confirmed infections that has left it with 120 more cases than it had a week ago.
As the numbers have spiked, more than a million people in six local government areas identified as hotspots have been told they should stay home, and people should not visit the council areas.
Testing is also set to be boosted further – and there were widespread reports on Monday of lengthy queues at some of Melbourne’s shopping centre drive-in test sites. Callers to Melbourne radio 3AW reported three-hour queues a some centres, including Highpoint and Northland shopping centres, while others said they had been told to go home.
Mr Dwyer said some SDA members had put up signs at shopping centres asking people not to go from testing centres to the ships. But they had been told to remove them by shopping centre staff.
The union will speak to shopping centre representatives, hoping to persuade them to do more to encourage shoppers to follow recommendations.
Doing a better job of monitoring foot traffic was in the best interests of shopping centres as well as the wider community, Mr Dwyer said.
As they had “failed to take necessary action so far”, the SDA said it would contact Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth to ask them to step in.