Following the recent announcement of an Indian restaurant in Mission Bay being deemed as a location of interest, it is important that small businesses such as restaurants, eateries, dairies, green grocers, and others are fully aware of their responsibilities and what they need to do immediately.

Public health officials are anticipating a rapid surge in the spread of highly transmissible Omicron virus in the community, to an extent of 10,000 cases arriving daily it is possible that most of small businesses can potentially be affected as a location of interest.

In the current financially challenging environment for a majority of hospitality businesses, being declared as location of interest can be extra stressful as it may create an anxiety if the business place has to be closed immediately and how to ensure the safety of workers, contractors and customers.

Here are answers to some of the questions troubling small businesses.

Will my business have to be closed if it is declared as location of interest?

The Ministry of Health has clear guidelines on what to do and under what conditions will a business or work site be declared as a location of interest.

It is important to understand that it is at the complete discretion of the public health authorities to declare a business as a location of interest and close the place for few days.

There are chances that the business may not be asked to be closed, depending upon who was the first identified case and how bad is the chances of spread of the virus, depending upon a number of factors. 

If the case is an employee

If an employee becomes a confirmed (or probable) Covid-19 case and has been at your workplace while infectious, there are standard processes that will be followed.

You may be told by your employee directly, or notified by public health officials and then you should:

  • Inform any Health and Safety Managers and/or Occupational Health Managers within the organisation if you have them; they are the best people to liaise with public health officials
  • Isolate spaces that this person may have spent significant time in and ensure cleaning is undertaken before they are able to be used (see General cleaning for more information)
  • Specific or additional advice will be given by public health officials of any cleaning requirements based on the extent of exposure
  • Assist as required with the contact tracing process and support any other staff identified as a contact of the case who needs to self-isolate or stay at home
  • Follow all public health advice regarding communication with your employees and customers
  • You may need to consider store or site closure – this decision should be made on the advice of a public health official based on information including the extent of the exposure, the type of service you provide and how many staff members are affected
  • Follow the public health official’s advice regarding any additional requirements that are specific to your type of business.
  • Always protect the privacy of your employee. Their name must not be shared.

Contact tracing

Contact tracing will be undertaken by public health officials and/or the Ministry of Health to determine potential exposure to employees, customers and visitors. Public health officials will advise what actions contacts need to take.

The contact tracing process involves factual information gathering which could include interviews, CCTV, checking of rosters and assessing cleaning procedures that had occurred whilst or after the confirmed case was on site.

It is important for a business owner to maintain an accurate electronic record of workers, contractors, or visitors who have been at the business or workplace.

If they keep accurate electronic records of who was at the workplace or location and when they were there, it makes contact tracing easier and more efficient. They may be asked to provide this information to the National Investigation and Tracing Centre.

Where there are unknown contacts the business may be listed as a Location of Interest on the Ministry of Health website.

Depending on the level of risk to the business or workplace, these businesses may not always be notified of this publication.

At any time, an employee who feels unwell with symptoms of Covid-19, no matter how mild, should be encouraged to get a test, and stay at home until they receive a negative test result.

They can seek help by calling their GP (doctor) or they can call Healthline, for free, on 0800 358 5453.

If the case is a customer

If a customer who is a confirmed (or probable) Covid-19 case has visited your workplace while infectious, you may not necessarily be contacted by public health.

Whether you are contacted following a customer visit will depend on the level of risk and the type of interaction the customer has had at your workplace, eg, a hairdresser or a gym may be notified but a simple transaction in a retail environment may not.

Communication with customers

Follow advice from public health officials to help you inform customers about the situation and what actions need to be taken.

This could include:

  • Signage at the front of the store to inform customers of the confirmed case and including any instructions from health officials
  • Notifying customers via media platform (newsletter, social media etc) of the confirmed case and including any instructions from health officials
  • Having Ministry of Health guidance readily available for customers.