Christchurch restaurant issued with $20,000 of COVID-19 infringement notices

Christchurch restaurant The Lotus-Heart has been issued three infringement notices by WorkSafe New Zealand for failing to comply with COVID-19 requirements.

The vegetarian eatery faces paying a total of $20,000 in fines after failing to display signs saying whether it requires vaccine passes to enter or displaying a QR code in a prominent place.

The restaurant also doesn't have systems or processes to check the vaccine pass status of patrons, WorkSafe said.

"WorkSafe has been looking into this since September, and these infringement notices are the result of an unwillingness of the business to engage with WorkSafe or change their practices," WorkSafe's head of general inspectorate Simon Humphries said.

"Despite the business refusing to communicate with us, our inspector has gathered enough information to determine the business isn't meeting even the bare minimum of what it's supposed to do."

Humphries said the actions of The Lotus-Heart weren't a reflection on the majority of restaurants around Aotearoa which were looking after their visitors. He also said that infringement notices weren't the first step in the process.

"I know the hospitality industry has been needing time to consider what the new rules mean for them and I want to reassure them we're not jumping straight to infringement notices.

"When a concern is raised with WorkSafe we first look to talk to the business and check what they're doing and if their practices are correct. It takes a sustained period of observed non-compliance for us to escalate which is what's happened with The Lotus-Heart."

Humphries noted that the business was still operating as a dine-in restaurant, which meant all workers needed to be vaccinated. 

That could lead to another infringement notice as WorkSafe hadn't been able to confirm the vaccination status of staff so far.

The St Asaph Street restaurant was the subject of a social media post in October, which highlighted none of the staff were wearing masks, but all seemed to have exemption cards on lanyards instead.

At the time a poster at the business entrance said it wasn't required to ensure people wore face coverings and gave instructions on how to apply for exemption cards, according to reports.

Owner Bhuvah Thurston has previously declined to comment and had trespassed journalists from the restaurant.