Rebates for COVID-19 ‘deep clean’ driving up prices, businesses say

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Cleaning companies say the cost of getting a “COVID-19 deep clean” has jumped since the introduction of a rebate to small businesses that became exposure sites.

Since December last year, any business having to pay for their premises to be deep cleaned by a commercial cleaning firm has been able to get a rebate of up to $10,000 from the Andrews government. The government has paid a total of $1.7 million to 727 businesses.

Contractors ‘deep clean’ a Melbourne entertainment venue after a COVID-19 scare.

According to a number of businesses, the rebates have driven up the price of a deep clean to as much as $5000.

But Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said on Friday that the need for cleaning places that have had a COVID-19-positive person visit will change, probably making the $10,000 business grant redundant.

“We know from international literature and a deeper understanding of what surface contamination can do that it’s really not as significant a risk as the shared air [and] as being in the same indoor space” as a COVID-19 positive person, Professor Sutton said.

“The cleans that need to occur are really the high-touch surfaces … those environments need to be cleaned down, but it’s not a case of cleaning every single surface with a disinfectant in the same way.”

Asked if the shrinking need for “deep cleaning” would see the grant phased out, Professor Sutton said the requirement for all surfaces to be disinfected had shifted. “It is a burden – it costs money, it uses a lot of chemicals, and it takes a lot of time and effort.”

Timothy Beel has worked in commercial cleaning for five years and in November 2019 started the Integral Cleaning Group, which employs 20 people and cleans businesses of all types across Melbourne.

Mr Beel said the average cost of cleaning a typical small business such as a shop or medium-sized office that had a COVID-19 exposure usually topped $3000.

“But sometimes we’ve been engaged by people and we’ve charged around $2000, and they’ve been quoted $5000 by other companies,” he said. Mr Beel believes a “COVID cleaning industry” has sprung up specifically targeting exposure sites, with the government rebate factored into cleaning prices.

According to a number of businesses, the rebates have driven the price of a deep clean to as much as $5000.

He said some cleaning businesses promised legitimate cleaning techniques that were not required for COVID-19, such as “fogging” – chemical disinfectants used as mists, used routinely in the food industry to target hard-to-get-at areas.

“Cleaners turn up in all of this cool equipment looking like Ghostbusters. It’s definitely not the right way to clean a COVID outbreak,” he said. “Ironically just wiping down surfaces with a disinfectant is the right way to do it.”

He encouraged anyone who had to get a COVID-19 deep clean done to get several quotes “because it seems like cleaners are just charging whatever they want. The industry is not regulated but there are guidelines … so if people ask things like ‘have they been registered for two years, have they got an ABN, are they insured correctly, are they recommended?’ you will be on a better footing than finding a cleaner via Facebook ads.“

Dale Wyatt, treasurer of the Cranbourne Chamber of Commerce, said as case numbers had grown in the south-east, so had exposure sites. He said while it was still necessary for businesses hit by a coronavirus exposure to clean, the requirements still needed were “a bit excessive, and given vaccination rates it’s becoming less necessary”.

He said the government paying for COVID-19 “deep cleans” was not the answer. “Let people shut down for half a day, give it a good clean, and move on. We don’t shut down when someone has been in our shop with the flu. You should disinfect surfaces, but you shouldn’t shut down.”

The state opposition’s small business spokesman David Southwick said many firms had struggled to access support payments during lockdown. “So it’s a slap in the face that grants for deep cleans have been taken advantage of,” he said, adding that it was a “waste of taxpayer money and small businesses’ time and effort.”

He said rather than “giving bloated grants for questionable deep cleans”, Premier Daniel Andrews needed to more accurately target the needs of small businesses to get back on track.

Small Business Minister Jaala Pulford was contacted for comment on whether the government would now phase out the cleaning rebate. Her office did not respond by deadline.

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