Victorian business owners have welcomed the surprise easing of COVID-19 lockdown measures from Friday, while urging the government to match the loosened restrictions of New South Wales as soon as possible.
From 11.59pm Thursday night, Melbourne pubs and clubs will be permitted to serve 20 fully vaccinated patrons indoors and 50 outdoors, ending months of hospitality business closures.
Entertainment venues will reopen their doors to 50 fully vaccinated patrons in outdoors areas, while personal services like hairdressers will soon be permitted to serve five customers at a time.
Melbourne’s travel distance limit and nightly curfew will be scrapped. In-home gatherings will expand to 10 people, with 15 allowed to gather outside.
Attendance caps for weddings and funerals will also be lifted for vaccinated guests, with students between Year 3 and Year 11 starting their staggered return to the classroom.
However, non-essential retail venues will remain closed.
The easing of those lockdown restrictions came well ahead of community expectations, but Premier Daniel Andrews said it was an appropriate response to the state’s growing vaccination rate.
Victoria will surpass a 70% vaccination rate early this week, Andrews said, and the state’s first dose rate has crossed 90%.
Restrictions will be eased further once the 80% vaccination threshold is crossed. Current projections suggest that will occur by 5 November.
The Victorian announcement follows the easing of lockdown restrictions across Greater Sydney last Monday, including the reopening of retail venues to fully vaccinated shoppers.
“We welcome the additional weekend of trade and we welcome the additional easing particularly around hospitality,” Victoria Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said of the Sunday announcement.
“But we are short of where NSW is at and we need to close that gap quickly.”
The Chamber has also asked the government to clarify its rules around Tier 1 and Tier 2 exposure sites once the vaccination rate hits 80%.
With retailers set to open their doors in the coming weeks, the Chamber fears current exposure site rules could force countless frontline staff into self-isolation despite high vaccine uptake.
“The Victorian Chamber didn’t get everything we wanted, but it’s better than what we were expecting,” Guerra said.
Those comments were echoed by the Australian Retailers Association, whose chief executive, Paul Zahra, told “RN Breakfast” that many Victorian business owners will have to wait while their NSW counterparts reintroduce in-person sales.
“We’re really pleased and excited [but] we’d like to have seen more retailers open,” Zahra said.
“We were still left a little bit perplexed because we have two states doing two different things.”
Melbourne’s live music sector has also called on the government to provide an industry-specific roadmap, claiming the occupancy limits currently forecast by the state roadmap are untenable.
Save Our Scene, an industry group including live music venues like The Forum, 170 Russell, and Max Watts, has launched a petition seeking for additional financial support through the coming months.
“Even at one person per two square metres, we cannot survive,” the group said Monday.
“For most venues, that is 30% of our normal trading capacity. We may be open, but we will be bleeding out slowly.”
As business groups look to the months ahead, Victoria’s reopening plan has been skewered by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
There is “a long way to go before Victorians, who have given up so much, get the same freedoms as NSW,” Frydenberg tweeted Sunday.
His claim earned a sharp rebuke from Andrews, who labelled Frydenberg’s criticism a “breathless political rant”.
“His endless criticism and negativity, I just don’t think it goes down very well in Victoria because it doesn’t work against this virus,” he told ABC’s “News Breakfast” on Monday.
With some estimates suggesting the reopening plan will see daily COVID-19 cases peak around Christmas, Andrews said he was determined to avoid another statewide lockdown.
“We can have our freedom, in a gradual way, but we can be optimistic about the future,” he said.