By Rhonda Dredge
The crates were empty, the fruit and veg covered in hessian and the foot traffic virtually non-existent in A and B sheds at the Queen Victoria Market (QVM) on Tuesday, February 16.
Six days earlier a customer connected to the Holiday Inn COVID cluster had walked through the sheds.
No-one knows which stalls the customer visited between 8.45am and 10.10 am but she tested positive on the Sunday.
All of the workers at the 37 stalls in the sheds, as well as nine other personnel, were ordered by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS) to get tested and self-isolate for 14 days.
Tuesday was the first day of trading after the department declared the hotspot and it had taken everyone, including traders, customers and management, some time to work through the issues.
“To me it’s complicated,” QVM CEO Stan Liacos said. “They’re not making the rule about the market, but about the State.”
According to stall holders, the market experienced its worst day of trading on the day following the government’s announcement.
One bakery had just six customers by 10.30 am. “This is the quietest I’ve ever seen it,” Mr Liacos told CBD News.
QVM’s CEO confirmed the market was trading at less than 20 per cent of its pre-COVID figures but said that custom had picked up later in the day.
“We’re 80 per cent down in terms of pedestrians,” he said. “You can think about everything colliding at the same time. There are no tourists, no city workers, a five kilometre restriction and a full lockdown … then the dilemma of a public response to a COVID case.”
He said that the sheds had been deep cleansed and that DHHS had given the go-ahead for stalls to re-open with staff who had not been working on that Thursday.
But, despite the rapid action by the market to get back into action and a message sent out to patrons, many shoppers stayed away because they thought the entire market was closed for two weeks.
The fruit and veg section next to the dairy was open but traders were not experiencing an increase in sales as a result of less competition.
“The market is quiet,” Rob Lewis of Twinkle Berry’s Organics said. “It’s had bad publicity. It seems like the government doesn’t care too much.”
Just one of the 37 produce stalls in A and B sheds had re-opened. Baji and Alyssa offered to open up Nash & Salin Fresh Fruits and they were the sole traders in a vast empty shed.
“I normally work on Sundays but the café I work in was closed today so I came to help,” Alyssa said.
Afnan, a resident of Lonsdale St, was one of their customers. He got the email to say the market was open but was shocked to find just one stall in A shed serving customers.
“I understand the staff had to quarantine,” he said. “It’s understandable. It shouldn’t stop patrons from coming.”
There were some good deals available with time to make a selection with fishmongers reducing their range but upping the quality of their cuts and butchers cutting schnitzels on the spot.
QVM management also announced in February that Tuesday trading would be temporarily suspended for general merchandise traders due to the ongoing absence of tourism and the reduction of CBD office workers.