Melbourne cafes, pubs and restaurants will have to remain take-away only and in-person retail won’t resume until at least the end of October under new plans outlined by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.
Mr Andrews outlined a phased “roadmap for re-opening” on Sunday, with the aim of reaching a “COVID normal” state by the end of the year.
The five-step plan — starting with step one and concluding with “COVID normal” — contains incremental changes for the way workplaces and businesses operate as COVID-19 case numbers dissipate.
About 100,000 workers across the construction, manufacturing, and landscape garden and maintenance sectors will be allowed to return to work under step two, beginning September 28, while childcare centres will also be able to open without permits.
Restaurants and cafes will only be allowed to offer take-away under steps one and two of the roadmap. Retail will remain “click and collect” during the same period.
Step three, starting October 26 and contingent on the state recording fewer than five new cases each day, will see hospitality venues allowed to re-open for “predominantly outdoor seating service” and group bookings of up to 10 people.
Other retail, including hairdressers but not beauty salons, will also re-open under step three.
The final step before “COVID normal” is intended to start November 23 and will see indoor dining expanded to a maximum of 50 people and group bookings of 20.
Intrastate travel – critical for the success of regional hospitality offerings during the summer high-season – will be allowed under this last step.
A phased return to the office will begin and restrictions on retail and hospitality operations will be removed under “COVID normal” – which will be enacted when there have been no new cases state-wide for 28 days.
“Importantly, we want the whole of the state to be at ‘COVID normal’ by the end of the year – making sure family barbecues, summer holidays and a trip to the beach can all still happen,” Mr Andrews said.
Industry groups criticise delay to retail re-opening
The Australian Retailers Association slammed what it characterised as a “seven-week delay” to the re-opening of retail, given the success of stores such as supermarkets in keeping transmission at bay.
ARA chief executive Paul Zahra said October 26 for the resumption of in-person retails was disappointing.
“Melbourne retailers will have been subject to lockdown for 13 weeks at that point – and some hair and beauty salons have been closed for five months, which is unprecedented,” said Mr Zahra.
He welcomed the opening of warehouses and distribution centres under step one of the plan, but said small retailers would probably need more financial help to make it to October.
“Without further financial support, this will certainly permanently wipe out a large number of small businesses and see the closure of many Victorian stores by national retailers,” he said.
Real Estate Institute of Victoria director Richard Simpson said the decision to delay retail openings would be a significant disappointment to small businesses and landlords alike.
“It’s devastating for the businesses who are not going to be able to open. The retail industry is generally pretty safe and the retail operators are very good at making sure they comply with COVID-19 protocols, so those people will be very disappointed they can’t open sooner,” he said.
“It’s also disappointing for landlords who will need to give more rent relief, particularly for self-funded retirees who are really struggling at the moment.”
While largely expected, the confirmation that a phased return to the office would only happen under the final stage of the plan would also cause particular harm to the retail and hospitality businesses centred around business districts.
“You feel for the small businesses at the bottom of those towers who will have no customers for the next two or three months and not being able to return until next year – they’ll completely miss out on the Christmas trading period,” Mr Simpson said.
Mr Simpson also criticised continuing restrictions on real estate agents being able to show properties specific to industries that have been allowed to open in step one of the roadmap, such as warehouses and distribution centres.
“Even in industries that are permitted, like warehousing, we can’t show potential clients,” he said.
“We’ll be speaking with government over the next week or so to try and find out what the thoughts behind this decision were and to try and have it overturned.”
Mr Andrews said discussions with industry groups would continue in the comings days.
“I know for a lot of businesses, they’ll want to know what comes next for them too, and certainty to plan for the future. And, while the current arrangements will remain in place until at least September 28, we’ll continue meeting with you, and listening to you, to make sure you have that certainty going forward,” he said.
Regional business reliant on easing restrictions in Melbourne
Regional Victoria will follow a different timeline to metropolitan Melbourne, with eased restrictions expected to be implemented within the next few weeks, according to the Premier.
But businesses in regional tourism hot spots will be nervously looking at Melbourne’s performance in the lead-up to the critical summer holiday period, according to Anthony Cerantonio, Victorian state representative for the Small Business Association of Australia.
“Until such time as Melbourne opens and Melbourne residents are allowed to travel, the tourism industry in places like the Great Ocean Road is not going to go anywhere,” Mr Cerantonio, who operates several businesses in Anglesea, said.
“We’re like farmers: if there’s no rain, you go broke. Well, if there’s sunshine but no tourists, we’ll go broke,” he said. “The Christmas period is so vital because that’s where tourist businesses get 60 per cent of their income for the period. If Melbourne is in lockdown and people aren’t allowed to travel that’s the nail in the coffin. This is the real problem at the moment.”
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