A diverse range of events and businesses in south-west Victoria are part of a test-run for the state’s future as a “vaccinated economy”.
In Warrnambool, a real estate agent, a beauty salon, an art gallery, and a horse racing meet are among the 15 regional enterprises which, from Monday, will have higher patron caps on the condition its participants are all fully vaccinated.
Elsewhere in regional Victoria, a gym, cinemas, pubs and cafes will also take part.
The test run aims to work out the kinks in Victoria’s plan to re-open when 70 per cent of the 16 years of age and older population has received two vaccine doses, projected for October 26.
For two weeks the regional businesses will test new vaccine certification technology before metropolitan businesses get on board, culminating in the Melbourne Cup opening to 10,000 patrons.
About 300 fully vaccinated punters are expected to be allowed to attend Warrnambool Racecourse on Thursday in what is seen as a small-scale test run for the race that stops the nation.
In another element of the trial, Roberts One Real Estate in Warrnambool will test a new and improved version of the Service Victoria app that will allow 30 fully vaccinated people to attend an open house at any one time.
The app will also allow 30 fully vaccinated people at indoor auctions and 100 at outdoor auctions.
Roberts One licensed agent Daniel Roberts said his business’ participation is about more than just the real estate industry.
“We’re just really happy we can help every business in Victoria move forward and that’s the critical part of it,” Mr Roberts said.
“We’re not just doing this from a real estate agency perspective.
“We’re doing this for every single person out there that owns a business and employs staff and wants to get back to work and make sure we all stay open.”
Mr Roberts said the new measures he will test will hopefully prove beneficial for his business.
“We want to be able to take people through properties, sell houses, get tenants into properties, get people to move to Warrnambool,” he said.
The businesses were chosen first for being in highly vaccinated, low-COVID areas, and then nominated by their respective business associations.
Warrnambool has already passed 95 per cent first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine among people over 15 years of age, and is expected to pass 70 per cent fully vaccinated people over 15 early this week.
“I think Warrnambool’s done an amazing job with their vaccination rates so this is about moving forward,” Mr Roberts said.
How vaccine certificates work
In Victoria, a vaccine certification is accessible through the Service Victoria app once it is shared from the Commonwealth’s MyGov site.
Victorian Minister for Government Services Danny Pearson said the trials would help find bugs in the system.
“We’re trying to make it a positive user experience by incorporating your immunisation certificate into your Service Victoria app, so from a business perspective you can check in and show that you’re vaccinated all in the one location,” Mr Pearson said.
He also reassured users that medical data was secure.
Mr Pearson said it was not yet known how long checking a vaccine status would be necessary.
“I would love for this to be obsolete technology in three months. But look, we don’t know,” he said.
Support against backlash
After some regional business and doctors faced reprisals for embracing vaccines, measures have been put in place to help protect the trial sites.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the trials were the state’s best chance at making reopening less difficult.
“If anyone is breaking the law, being violent, or acting in that fundamentally awful way, then Victoria Police will be there,” he said.
“Please don’t interfere in trials to open our whole state up. That doesn’t make any sense.”
Mr Roberts said the lead-in time to the trial had not been long, but he welcomed the resources the state government was putting into the trial.
He also emphasised that unvaccinated people would not be shut out of the housing market.
“We can still conduct (one-on-one) inspections for individuals by appointment, so if you’re unvaccinated you can still go through a property by consent of the vendor,” Mr Roberts said.
“So if a vendor might say ‘look, I don’t want anyone who’s unvaccinated on the property’ then we will abide by their instructions.
“But as far as taking someone through who’s unvaccinated it’s inspection by appointment, which is what all other real estate agents are doing right now.”
While he is aware of the potential for backlash from the unvaccinated minority, Mr Roberts said the benefits outweighed the risks.
“I really do think it’s worthwhile, purely for the reason that we get to have an input into any changes that need to be done or anything that we can put forward that doesn’t work,” he said.
“We all want to get back to some sort of normal.
“It’s been a tough, hard slog with lockdowns, but not just our industry. Every business in Victoria’s been affected.”