25 November 2020

"Each day brings us closer to oblivion": hospitality pushes for easing of COVID-19 restrictions

| Dominic Giannini
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Hospitality venue

The Australian Hotels Association has called for the urgent easing of indoor restrictions for businesses ahead of the summer period. Photo: File.

The ACT hospitality industry says the government needs to move urgently to ease COVID-19 restrictions, calling for the four-square-metre rule to be relaxed to two.

Currently, businesses with more than 200 square metres of space can only have one person per four square metres indoors.

Useable outdoor space restrictions moved to one person per two square metres at the start of October while medium-sized businesses with usable space between 101 and 200 square metres can have a maximum of 50 people excluding staff.

“The ACT hospitality industry relies on the cash generated in December to provide liquidity until August next year. Time is of the absolute essence – each day brings us closer to oblivion,” the Australian Hotels Association’s ACT general manager Anthony Brierley said.

Two new COVID-19 cases were recorded since the last easing of restrictions; however, as both were returned diplomats who remained in isolation, Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said these were unlikely to impact her decision to move forward.

The changing and uncertain situation in Adeliade, and prior to that, Melbourne, did play a crucial role in her decision-making process at each fortnightly COVID-19 checkpoint, she said.

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Frank Condi, who runs Edgar’s, The Inn, and Public said hospitality venues – especially ones that serve alcohol – were being unfairly targeted considering the limited restrictions in shopping centres, supermarkets or retail stores.

“By contrast, pubs and bars are still limited to 25 per cent of our normal capacity inside. We’re paying rent on floor space the [ACT] Government won’t less us use,” he said.

“If we’re allowed one patron per two square-metres indoors, the industry might be able to tread water until there is a vaccine.”

Jane Collins, co-owner of The Dock, said the Kingston pub would need to consider a hibernation period if the business is to remain viable under the current restrictions.

Brian Smith, who runs Hopscotch, said Canberra’s weather during summer means indoor spaces will be integral to getting customers to dine out.

“Canberra has an unforgiving climate, so we can’t rely on outdoor dining. We’ve got plenty of space inside our venues to accommodate patrons safely,” he said.

“All I want for Christmas is the two-square metre rule for indoor spaces by 1 December.”

Dr Kerryn Coleman announcing the ACT will move to Step 3.2 next Friday. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Dr Kerryn Coleman is set to announce updates to the ACT’s roadmap at this week’s COVID-19 checkpoint. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

The ACT Government recently announced a new voucher program to encourage Canberrans to go out and spend money at local retailers during the Christmas period.

Vouchers worth up to $40 are available to use at Canberra businesses subject to minimum spends.

But Nick Tuckwell, the director of Grease Monkey, says the efficacy of the vouchers will be severely inhibited if indoor capacity is not increased.

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ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said Dr Coleman would have more to say tomorrow (26 November) ahead of Friday’s checkpoint.

“She is really hoping to provide some certainty for businesses and the Canberra community about what the road map to Christmas would look like,” she said.

“The one per two square metre rule is part of that road map.

“She had intended to provide the roadmap a few weeks ago and then we had the situation in South Australia that was, at the time, rapidly escalating and changing so that announcement was put on hold.”

The full list of restrictions and the current roadmap can be found on the ACT Health COVID-19 website.

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