NSW businesses respond to government mask advice as Premier pleads for broader take-up

Millhouse Cafe owners Muhannad Hbaika (left) and April Hbaika (right) and staff members Jasmine Baker and Manal Hbaika wear home made face masks. Picture: Karleen Minney
Millhouse Cafe owners Muhannad Hbaika (left) and April Hbaika (right) and staff members Jasmine Baker and Manal Hbaika wear home made face masks. Picture: Karleen Minney

April Hbaika has spent her evenings sewing face masks for several months now, in preparation for the worst-case scenario.

They came in handy recently when she asked staff in her Queanbeyan cafe to wear masks on shift, in response to updated advice from the NSW government.

The call to wear face masks has been willingly answered by some NSW venues, but others who feel more akin to the consistently virus-free ACT than Sydney, more convincing is needed.

"We've got a sign up to say you might see us wearing masks and that's just because we can't socially distance in our job," Ms Hbaika said.

"We don't want to risk getting sick and we don't want to risk any of our customers.

On August 2, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said face masks were highly recommend when physical distancing could not be assured.

This included on public transport, places of worship, supermarkets, shops and in customer-facing roles including hospitality and retail.

NSW continues to report an increase in cases, however the numbers have trended downwards in recent weeks. A further five locally acquired cases were reported on Wednesday.

The vast majority of NSW cases have been centered around Sydney suburbs, with Newcastle and the south coast also sources of clusters.

Ms Hbaika from the Millhouse Cafe said masks had become a more regular sight in Queanbeyan in recent weeks.

"A couple of months ago it was odd to see somebody wearing them but now it's almost the opposite," she said.

Staff at the Royal Hotel Queanbeyan are not yet required to wear a mask, but owner Anthony McDonald said that would change if there was a spike in cases closer to home.

Mr McDonald admitted it was "hardly possible" for employees to maintain distance but said no staff had opted to mask-up.

"Our staff have the option to wear a face mask if they feel that is appropriate," he said.

"At this stage we're following the [Australian Hotel Industry] guidelines and have opted not to make it mandatory.

At IGA Karabar about 30 per cent of staff members had started to use masks, manager Paul Purcell said.

Employees were not required but could choose to. Most staff members who worked at the front counters were doing so but those in less customer-facing roles didn't, he said.

"Until they put legislation in there's not much I can do about it," he said.

He said mask use was in a "grey area" which made it difficult for the business to do more than request people use them.

Religious services have been linked to a number of NSW coronavirus clusters, and have been raised by Ms Berejiklian as an activity of great concern.

"It is this setting, this familiarity that sometimes causes complacency," she said.

The Catholic Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn told The Canberra Times their NSW parishes had been told to recommend church-goers use face masks.

The Anglican Diocese said masks were strongly encouraged and were worn by staff and volunteers unless they had to be removed during a service.

This story 'We don't want to risk getting sick': NSW venues covering bases and faces in case of virus spike first appeared on The Canberra Times.