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Police in ‘compliance crackdown’ at NSW supermarkets

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Retailers say they are worried about the safety of staff who have to enforce compliance with COVID rules. Photo: Getty
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Police will patrol Sydney supermarkets to ensure laws on QR codes and face masks are being obeyed.

The “compliance crackdown” will also focus on large retail premises across the greater Sydney area, NSW Police said.

The shake-up came as the Woolworths at Bankstown was closed for deep cleaning on Tuesday afternoon after four staff tested positive to the virus.

They worked shifts from July 22-31.

NSW posted another 199 local COVID-19 infections on Tuesday and Ms Berejiklian said authorities did not know if the state was through the worst of its Delta outbreak.

Of Tuesday’s cases, 82 spent at least part of their infectious period in the community. The isolation status of another 47 is still to be determined.

  • See all of NSW’s virus exposure sites here

Workplace transmission of the virus remains a key concern for authorities, as well as its spread within homes.

QR code check-ins became mandatory at supermarkets, other shops and workplaces in NSW on July 12.

But state Police Minister David Elliott said some supermarkets were still not enforcing the rules. He said supermarkets had a “moral obligation to your customers to make sure they’re safe”.

“We will be telling the supermarkets … they must employ security guards,” he said.

He said police were to meet supermarket bosses on Tuesday morning to tell them they must employ security guards.

“There is a need for some logic and this is a logical step as far as I can see,” he told Nine Radio on Tuesday.

Mr Elliott said supermarkets would be told “exactly what’s expected of them”.

But Premier Gladys Berejiklian disagreed with her minister, say it was up to police to conduct compliance checks.

“Obviously police do compliance checks but as Dr Chant and the health advice say, we want as little human contact as possible,” she said.

“The QR codes are there for people to use them but even having a concierge person is a risk, as Dr Chant has said previously.

Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci said QR check-ins were a “tricky issue for supermarkets”.

He said the onus shouldn’t be on retailers to enforce the law.

“We encourage and prompt customers to check in but we do not enforce it and that is because we cannot put our team at risk in those scenarios,” Mr Banducci said.

“We’ve got to encourage and prompt but we don’t enforce, so if any customers sees someone without a mask, please don’t take it out on one of our team.

“That is not their role. That is the role of the police.”

Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra said he supported mandatory check-ins but was also concerned for the safety of workers.

“Customer aggression has been a big issue for retail staff throughout the pandemic and this issue is heightened whenever new measures are introduced,” he told the ABC.

Mr Zahra said enforcing rules should not fall to supermarket workers.

“Enforcement… is a matter for the appropriate authorities and not something that can be taken on by retail staff themselves.”

About a quarter of recent, publicised exposure sites are supermarkets.

That proportion didn’t surprise NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant, given supermarkets remain essential during the citywide lockdown.

“People have to eat,” she said.

Public alerts about case exposure sites weren’t signs of transmission, she said.

The small number of transmissions in supermarkets had generally been from workers becoming infected elsewhere and then passing the virus to their colleagues, she said.

“There have been a couple of cases where patrons have come in and infected staff, but generally it’s the other way,” Dr Chant said, saying authorities were more focused on smaller supermarkets where a large group of people will congregate.

Small businesses should minimise the number of customers inside and ask people to wait outside, she said.

-AAP