‘It’s crippling’ – Industry reacts to Victoria’s roadmap to reopening
By Andy Young and Brydie Allen
Victoria’s Premier Dan Andrews has set out the state’s roadmap to reopening, which does unfortunately see the Stage Four lockdowns for metropolitan Melbourne remain in place for an extra two weeks.
The lockdown was initially set to finish on September 13, but this has been extended to September 28, as the Victorian Government and health officials look to shake loose the grip COVID-19 has on Melbourne and the state of Victoria.
The Premier outlined a three-month roadmap for Victoria’s recovery from its second wave of the virus and how he hopes the state will avoid a devastating third wave.
“When Melbourne was in Stage Three restrictions, it was taking an average of 49 days to cut the number of cases in half. In Stage Four, we are doing it in just 18,” Andrews said as he outlined the plan.
“At the same time, the expert modelling tells us that even with that enormous effort, we’re likely to be averaging around 60 cases a day by next weekend. For reference, last time we eased restrictions, we were averaging around 10 cases a day.
“If we go too far too soon, the modelling also tells us we’d be on track for a third wave by mid-November. That would mean we’re back to where we are now, maybe even worse. Days, weeks, months of sacrifice, gone.
“Confidence for business, destroyed. More families suffering, more lives lost. It’s why, even as we release a roadmap for reopening, it’s got to be done in safe, steady and sustainable steps.”
The Premier’s roadmap moves Victoria from stages to steps, which he said will give Victorians “a long-term plan for out path out of restrictions and into COVID normal”.
He added: “The steps will be guided by dates and the data. That means if we are on track to take a step forward, we can do so confidently.”
In the first step of the Government’s roadmap, nothing changes for the state’s hospitality venues, with takeaway and delivery services being the only options available for revenue.
Notable aspects of the first step include an easing of the curfew to 9pm to 5am, exercise extended to two hours per day and a single social bubble for single parents and those living alone.
The second step will take place on 13 September and will see the removal of the curfew, however nothing changes again for hospitality venues, with takeaway and delivery only being allowed.
It is the third step that will offer some respite for venues operators with the roadmap allowing “predominantly outdoor seated service, group limit of 10 and density limits”.
The roadmap currently stipulates that this third step will happen after 26 October and when the state-wide, daily average number of cases in the previous 14 days is less than five and there has been a state-wide total of less than five cases with an unknown source in the last 14 days.
The roadmap states: “The time period must pass and the number of cases must be low enough to move to the next step. This is a trigger point for public health review.”
The move from step three to the last step will happen on 23 November, as long as there has been no new cases for 14 days across the state.
This step would see indoor openings for venues with group limits of 20 seated and a cap on 50 patrons, with outdoor dining service subject to density quotient.
The Australian Hotels Association Victoria has said hotels and pubs across the state will “bleed further with debt and face going over the cliff” under the state Government’s roadmap.
AHA (Vic) President David Canny said: “These decisions are going to change the whole hospitality landscape from which it may never recover.
“We are on the verge of becoming a ‘welfare state’ if our members are any indication as to the impact that lockdown restrictions are having on us.
“Closing down the industry is the easiest decision the government can make. The hardest is for our people to deal with mounting debt, employee welfare and mental health and not being the ‘community hub’ for many of our patrons and the broader community.
“Our country pubs and those in other states have proven the hospitality industry can comply with restrictions and minimise cases. We believe we can achieve this here.”
He added: “We have ongoing mounting fixed costs – electricity bills, insurance, Council rates and lease of equipment of which there is no relief. Each pub has a limit of just how much debt it can take before decisions are made to close the business for good. This is the cliff we are now facing.
“Local pubs are on the debt cliff and will never recover if they cannot re-open soon. We could lose the iconic corner pub because of the debt the Victorian Government restrictions have put on them.
“We are on the edge of that debt cliff and unless Government commences our re-opening then it is over we go.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Zara Madrusan, Director of the Made in the Shade Group, who told The Shout, that while the roadmap is not entirely surprising it “is crippling”.
She added the roadmap leaves the industry in desperate need of more financial support.
“Hospitality businesses will not survive this without some serious action – rent reductions, JobKeeper to remain at $1500 per fortnight until we can reopen our venues in a substantial capacity, (currently this reduction doesn’t cater to the unique situation Victoria is in), a commitment from local council and liquor licensing to allow for use of outdoor spaces in which to trade without endless red tape,” Madrusan said.
Luke Whearty, Co-Owner of Byrdi, told The Shout: “Yesterday’s news is definitely not the news we would have liked however there’s not a lot we can do to change the situation for now.
“I’m a big believer in not letting things that are out of your control stress you out. We are just going to do what we have been doing to keep our business afloat and do everything that is in our power and aim to stay positive.”
It’s a similar sentiment from Huw Griffiths, Co-Owner of Union Electric, who told The Shout: “It’s a bit overwhelming thinking about that fact that we’ve lost half of the year. It’s just incredible to think that by the time it’s finished, it’s going to be 15 weeks plus that we’ve been in lock down and not been able to trade.
“I think the only glimmer of light at the end of the long dark tunnel is the fact that we are moving towards eliminating as many cases as we can and hopefully, being able to open the borders sooner will certainly help Melbourne’s hospitality industry.”
He added: “We just want it done as quick as possible – if it means a little bit more pain now, for the sake of being able to open properly in six to eight weeks rather than this dragging out for another six months, I’m happy to take it.
“I think the next thing we’d like to see is some more chat about what’s going to happen to support hospitality businesses on the other side of this, and how are we going to promote Melbourne.”
Madrusan agrees, saying we can all do our bit to help venues in Victoria, calling on venues to “keep hosting events and pop ups in our name, such as the Maybe Mae and Alba Bar and Deli events.”
She added: “Keep buying bottled cocktails, books, gift vouchers, whatever you can that can be shipped nationally.
“Don’t forget about us, just because you’re on a path back to normality. We need the whole country to rally for one of its favourite cities. We need to stand together.”