Anger over decision to keep Melbourne’s venues in lockdown

19 October, 2020 by Andy Young

On Sunday Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews announced a number of changes to the restrictions currently imposed across the state, but the decision not to allow hospitality venues in Melbourne to reopen has drawn widespread criticism.

The changes announced yesterday include the 5km limit for exercise and shopping being extended to 25km and the two-hour time limit for exercise and socialising being scrapped. In addition outdoor sporting settings such as tennis courts, gold courses and skate parks will reopen and groups of up to 10 people from two households will be able to gather in outdoor places.

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A number of other restrictions were eased, including the reopening of hairdressers, but it was not good news for Melbourne’s venue operators, with Andrews saying.

“We need to wait just a bit longer – until 11:59pm on 1 November – to take the rest of the Third Step that will see retail, hospitality and personal care services open again.

“This is a timeline that is based on the current advice of our public health team.”

If offered a small glimmer of something resembling hope, by adding: “If we continue to track well on the most important indicators – case averages, mystery cases, test numbers and the number of days people wait before they get tested – we may be in a position to move sooner.

“These indicators help tell us the story that sits behind a case – and understand how we can safely make our next moves. My commitment to Melburnians: we’ll review this data each and every day this week and when we get to next weekend, if we can move any earlier and do it safely, we will.

“When we do reach the Third Step it will also mean we move from ‘stay home’ to ‘stay safe’ – with no restrictions on the reasons to leave home.

“Under this step, all remaining retail will open. Restaurants, cafes and pubs will open. And personal and beauty services will be able to offer treatments to clients – as long as a face mask can be worn.

“These businesses will be able to have staff onsite for a ‘dark opening’ from 28 October, giving them time to prepare to open their doors to the public.”

The decision not to reopen venues has drawn strong criticism as today sees Victoria record four new COVID-19 cases in the last 24, the sixth consecutive day of single figure new cases.

The Australian Hotels Association (AHA) said the continued delay in reopening the Victorian hospitality and accommodation sector is causing immense financial and mental stress.

AHA National CEO Stephen Ferguson said Victoria has over 26,000 businesses in the hospitality, accommodation and food services sector employing over 200,000 people.

“The hospitality and accommodation sectors in every other Australian state and territory have reopened safely,” Feguson said.

“Hotels across regional Victoria have not had any recorded COVID infections and the NSW and Victorian rolling seven-day averages are both below 10 cases.

“NSW venues are able to open with one patron per four square metres, up to a maximum of 300 people. I see no reason why Victoria should suffer further delay in reopening.”

Ferguson said every Victorian hotel has a COVID Safe plan including digital sign in, COVID safety marshals and heightened cleaning to ensure staff and patrons stay safe.

“The hospitality and accommodation sectors have borne the financial brunt and ongoing mental stress of this continued shutdown by the Victorian Government,” he said.

“The financial and emotional pressure on our hoteliers is building each and every day, and I don’t know how much longer they can sustain it.”

There was similar criticism from the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, whose CEO Peter Strong said: “The lack of focus on jobs and the economy shows the lack of awareness of how communities and an economy works. The lack of consultation with the business community shows an arrogance and hubris that will create damage, not create solutions.

“We congratulate the Government on getting the cases down from the very high figures from several months ago. We are also pleased to finally see the announcement of opening dates for businesses.”

However, Strong added: “We are extremely disappointed by the lack of understanding of the impact on small business people and their employees and customers. This could have been managed with the same health outcome and also better economic outcomes.

“The Premier and other decision makers obviously have no experience with business. They seem to think that a business owner will just turn the key to their business and things will start as they did before while magically being COVID safe.”

He also called on the Premier to “show us the economic plan”.

Strong said: “Show us the plans for managing hot spots and show us the approach to contact tracing. Include the business community in the planning and the process. Then we can have some type of certainty in uncertain times.”

Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Sally Capp also expressed her frustration at venues remaining closed following yesterday’s announcement.

She told the Today show that ““people are trying to work out the logic behind some of these decisions,” with hairdressers opening but other outlets remaining closed.

She added: “The December quarter is one of the most important quarters for hospitality and retail.

“It’s the make or break, and so the sooner we can get those stores and venues open safely, the better, and that’s got to be the message this week.

“So people can feel excited about some of the new freedoms here in metro Melbourne, but stay restrained enough to give our small business owners the best chance of opening earlier.”