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Unions warn on workplace reopening safety

Unions have warned COVID-19 deaths could rise unless more is done to beef up ventilation, testing and social distancing at Australian workplaces.

Swathes of NSW including Sydney stepped out of lockdown on Monday with pubs, cafes, restaurants and gyms among the businesses to welcome back fully-vaccinated punters.

With the ACT and Victoria also preparing to lift restrictions in coming weeks, the Australian Council of Trade Unions sounded the alarm on national workplace safety.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus said every employer needed a plan to address risks for workers and customers as Australia moves closer to normal life.

"That's going to be just critical," she told AAP on Monday.

"Otherwise there'll be more transmission and this will all be about hospitalisations and deaths."

Ventilation is considered a key issue to limit aerosol transmission of coronavirus.

Ms McManus said improvements could pose a short-term cost for employers that struggled through lockdowns but the investment would be worth it.

"It's going to be in the end a much better option than having your workplace ending up being an exposure site and certainly any of your staff or customers getting really sick from COVID," she said.

Ensuring social distancing and using rapid testing are also seen as crucial.

The ACTU is concerned some workers who will have to refuse service to unvaccinated customers because of public health orders need more protection.

Ms McManus wants clear government communication that staff are not responsible for the requirements and employers to ensure protocols to deal with difficult patrons are in place.

"For retail and hospitality workers who have been out of work this whole time and then come back to bear the brunt again of people's anger is absolutely not acceptable," she said.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has defended tapering off coronavirus disaster payments for workers as vaccination targets are reached.

He argues continued support is unsustainable and could act as a deterrent for people returning to work.

But Ms McManus said payments should remain in place until businesses were able to operate at full capacity.

The ACTU also wants federal disaster payments to kick in if localised lockdowns are imposed, which is possible under the national reopening plan.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison emerged from two weeks quarantine at The Lodge in Canberra to encourage fully-vaccinated residents in his home state of NSW to enjoy their freedoms.

He also sent a message to people in states that have avoided major lockdowns and rampant outbreaks, like Western Australia and Queensland.

"We need those vaccines to ensure that when COVID inevitably comes, that in those states you will be able to continue on as you have," he said.

WA and Queensland trail the nation on double-dose vaccination rates, while the ACT and NSW have a commanding lead ahead of Tasmania and Victoria.

A record 402,000-plus doses were administered over the weekend helping Australia's two-dose over-16 coverage rise to 62.4 per cent.

There were 496 new local cases and eight deaths reported in NSW on Monday, while Victoria registered 1612 infections and eight fatalities.

Canberra detected 32 new cases.

© AAP 2021