Concerns over another spike in coronavirus cases have been raised after thousands of people flocked to shopping centres across Australia today, many flouting social distancing rules.
Key points:Large crowds descended on shopping centres from Sydney to PerthMyer said it would work with centre managers to improve social distancingMany customers called on Westfield to stagger numbers at entry points
Although the pre-Mother’s Day boom was a welcome lift for the retail industry, it caused alarm over a potential surge in COVID-19 cases after weeks of declining infections across the country.
After more than a month of stay-at-home orders and progressively stricter rules around social movements, some Australian states and territories this week announced an easing of their coronavirus restrictions.
The relaxation of rules meant some shops re-opened for the first time in over a month and shoppers appeared to have much greater confidence to browse for non-essential items.
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Seas of people moved through small spaces, packed onto escalators and waited in lines outside shops without keeping the prescribed 1.5 metres of distance.
At Bankstown Shopping Centre in Sydney’s west, the ABC observed large crowds of people at close proximity, particularly outside the entry to Myer.
Some shoppers said they felt there was not enough preparation by the retailer to keep people at a safe distance while lining up at the door, but the store manager rebuffed any suggestion of disorganisation.
One shopper described the situation in shopping centres like “swimming in a COVID soup”(Twitter: @ObeeWhen)
A spokesperson for Myer later said the company would “continue to work with centre managers to ensure guidelines are followed in the areas outside of our stores”.
The department chain, which today re-opened seven stores across New South Wales and Queensland in time for the Mother’s Day rush, was a popular choice for shoppers today.
Some said they didn’t feel safe due to the crowds and cut their shopping trips short.(Instagram: @atetooomuch)
The Australian Retailers Association said the reports of crowding were worst in NSW and Victoria and the chief executive warned against a “false start”.
“It’s great to see the obvious enthusiasm from Australians to get back to the shops after weeks of lockdown. That’s a really great sign for retail, and a very natural response as Australians see the lockdowns starting to ease around the country,” Paul Zahra said.
“At the same time we want a safe restart, not a false start. And we are still waiting on a green light from some state governments before the full reopening of retail.”
Social distancing was virtually impossible in many parts of shopping centres.(Twitter: @simonshirley72)
Mr Zahra called for patience and caution so the progress made in curbing the spread of coronavirus was not reversed.
He said shops had done a lot to prepare for this weekend but people needed to exercise their own discretion.
“Our view is it’s in everyone’s interest to maintain social distancing so we can have a positive start to the easing of restrictions. So self-regulation is important — it’s a shared responsibility,” Mr Zahra said.
Westfield has not responded to the ABC’s requests for comment.
Many shoppers called on the retail giant to stagger customers at entry points to their centres, as many individual stores were doing, saying it was “busier than Christmas”.
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One shopper at Westfield Burwood in Sydney described the atmosphere as “bananas”.
“The current coronavirus rules are applied to individual shops but not a shopping centre,” Natalie said.
“We still have social distance rules but at Westfield, social distances didn’t mean anything! Don’t understand why most of the shoppers and Westfield management are so ignorant of the regulation,” Gabrin Rajanayagam said.
“It’s bizarre that Westfield today is jammed with a sea of people yet cafes and restaurants are limited to 10 people,” Russell Egan said.
This chart uses a logarithmic scale to highlight coronavirus growth rates. Read our explainer to understand what that means — and what we can learn from countries that have slowed the spread.What you need to know about coronavirus: