Victorian pubs dealt last-minute blow with restriction extension

22 June, 2020 by Vanessa Cavasinni

With COVID-19 cases beginning to spike in Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews announced over the weekend a return to stricter social distancing practices for the state – including the postponement of larger trading capacities for pubs, clubs and restaurants.

With Victoria’s cases of COVID-19 currently at the highest numbers the state has seen in two months, the Premier announced that it was necessary to revert to some stricter social distancing practices and postpone the relaxing of other restrictions. From today – Monday 22 June – Victorian pubs, clubs and restaurants were set to increase their capacities from maximum 20 people to 50 people per space in accordance with the one-person-per-4sqm rule. However that has now been pushed back to at least 12 July, with the maximum capacity to stay at 20 people per space.

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“From the outset, we have always listened to our medical experts. And they’re telling us we’ve come to a critical crossroads,” stated Premier Andrews in delivering the restrictions update.

He noted that the increase in cases is largely being driven by family gatherings rather than public communal spaces, and has thus reduced the home visits to a maximum of five people. There are currently 121 active cases of COVID-19 in Victoria.

“I know this is not where we wanted to be. And that Victorians will feel disappointed and frustrated. I’m frustrated too. But we have to channel that frustration into action.We can’t let this thing get away from us. We must act – while we can.”

With the increase in community transactions also being attributed to people who have gone to work with a confirmed case, the Premier also announced a new $1500 payment for those with a confirmed case or who have been deemed a close contact and don’t have access to sick leave.

Industry frustration

While public health is the utmost priority, many publicans already feeling the pressure of trading limitations, are enraged at the lack of notice – with many having ordered enough fresh produce and stock to account for the higher trading capacities that were supposed to begin today.

Paul Waterson CEO of Australian Venue Co has railed against the 48-hour notice the industry received, particularly after having shown that it is equipped to adapt to stringent hygiene practices. The group has 31 pubs, bars, restaurants and venue spaces across Melbourne which were preparing for a significant hike in trade from today.

“As a business, we had been planning towards these increased capacities for weeks now.  The increase from 20 to 50 customers per enclosed space is a significant one from a revenue perspective and to be given 48 hours to reverse this work is incredibly challenging.  This impacts more than just our customer numbers; we have orders placed with suppliers, staff who were set to come back to work for the first time since March and a number of bookings and functions that we have now had to cancel.

“These continual setbacks are having a material impact on hospitality businesses across the state.  Restaurants, bars and pubs have been open for three weeks now with successful hygiene practices and contact tracing measures in place.  Our venues are safer and more accountable than ever before.  There needs to be a level of trust and support for responsible operators to manage the increased risk while still being able to trade with financially viable patron numbers.”

At the Golden Fleece Hotel in South Melbourne, publican Sam Austen said that his venue will not be overly impacted, as his team had hedged its bets and prepared for a potential second wave of restrictions by keeping the public car closed for on-premise trade, but rather operating as a pop-up bottleshop.

Only the bistro and upstairs functions room have been open for on-premise trade in recent weeks, but the delay to the 50-pax capacity has seen the venue have to cancel three functions worth $5000 each in revenue over the weekend.

“We’ve been preparing for this because you just have to watch television to see people going back to totally normal behaviour and potentially bringing about a second wave. A second closure would be catastrophic now,” stated Austen.

Kimberley Malcolm, AHA (Vic) senior manager – membership and industry engagement, said that publicans were frustrated that their businesses are being negatively impacted by the reckless behaviour of others.

“Publicans and pub customers are angry that certain people in the community are breaching COVID-19 rules, which ultimately is seeing restrictions on our industry last longer. If the broader community was doing the right thing, our publicans and pub customers wouldn’t be suffering as they are now.

“Publicans have proven they can manage the COVID-19 risks so there is a strong case for restrictions to be lifted, at the very least for those running pubs in regional Victoria.”

The news of the extension has dealt the Victorian pub industry another blow, as publicans across the state last week were pushing for the one-per-4sqm rule to halved to one person per 2sqm to remain financially viable.