It’s been more than three years since COVID-19 first reached Australia’s shores, and with new reports indicating that COVID-19 is now the third biggest killer in our nation, the virus is still having a devastating impact on society.

Earlier this month the World Health Organisation reminded us that COVID-19 remains a public health emergency of international concern, encouraging communities to stay vigilant and ensure protocols are in place to reduce the spread, despite mandatory conditions (such as face mask wearing and social distancing) being repealed in most countries.

As a front line service, with no option to work remotely, retailers and their employees are inherently at risk from transmissible illnesses, including colds, influenza and COVID-19.

With reports suggesting the recent XBB.1.5 subvariant is the most contagious strain so far, Australian retailers need to act now and implement a comprehensive hygiene protocol to protect their employees and customers.

Although there are no longer enforced isolation periods, COVID-19 still renders most employees unable to work for extended periods due to fever, cough and fatigue.

As well as impacting people’s health, COVID-19 has severely impacted productivity, resulting in dramatic economic impacts; and businesses simply cannot afford to be complacent. Research we conducted last year into the cost of workplace absenteeism revealed the devastating financial impact on businesses, with one in 10 employees absent from work on any given day, costing the Australian retail industry nearly $2.6 billion in lost productivity last year.

With our research also showing that 84 per cent of retail workers are concerned about the risk of workplace infection, and not having the luxury of working from home, it is vital that retailers incorporate best practice hygiene measures into their workplace safety and wellbeing approach. Solutions, such as air purification devices, can help reassure employees that workplace hygiene is being prioritised, increase employee confidence about going to work and reduce workplace absenteeism.

For retailers, workplace absenteeism can destroy a business: if staff don’t turn up, a store can’t open. With future subvariants expected to see infections rise again, incorporating measures to reduce transmission, could be the difference between staying open and shutting up shop – permanently.

Our research revealed that most retailers do have hygiene measures in place, such as strategically placed hand sanitisers and regular cleaning protocols. However, while these measures do go some of the way, they are not enough in isolation to combat this highly contagious, airborne virus.

There are a number of simple measures businesses can adopt to meet best-practice hygiene requirements and reassure employees they’re doing everything possible to curb the spread of COVID-19. To achieve best practice hygiene, we recommend a 360-degree approach incorporating the four key pillars of air, hand, surface, and washroom, which collectively create a hygienic environment for employees and customers.

Air hygiene is particularly important considering COVID is an airborne virus, and incorporating solutions to improve air quality such as air purification should be considered as part of every business’ overall hygiene strategy.

We know a lot of indoor retail spaces either don’t have natural ventilation or prefer not to keep windows and doors open for long periods for security or climate control reasons. In this instance, air purification devices can play a crucial role in improving the quality of indoor air, and a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, which removes most micro-particles from the air, including dust, pollen, mould, odours, and smoke, should be the bare minimum.  

Businesses looking to protect themselves from future subvariants of COVID-19, should be considering devices that also decontaminate the air. UV-C technology uses short-wave ultraviolet light to essentially deactivate viruses, bacteria, mould, and other pathogens that manage to pass through the filter system, preventing them from spreading.

Choosing solutions which incorporate UV-C technology, such as VIRUSKILLERTM, is one way to provide an extra layer of protection, with the device proven to be 99.9999 per cent effective against airborne viruses and pathogens, including COVID-19*.

Ultimately, all types of businesses have a responsibility to ensure their employees and customers feel safe on their premises by implementing a comprehensive hygiene strategy that instils confidence.

If you’re wondering what a best practice hygiene protocol looks like for your business, Rentokil Initial offers free hygiene audits to provide solutions that are tailored to your exact needs. For more information visit:

Andrew Stone is managing director of Pacific at Rentokil Initial.

*When independently tested against Coronavirus DF2 (a surrogate for Coronavirus), Adenovirus, Influenza and Polio, the unit was found to kill 99.9999% of viruses on a single air pass.