Melbourne’s pubs and clubs welcomed their first patrons in months overnight as the city downgraded its COVID-19 restrictions, but a late tweak to staff vaccination requirements could keep some venues closed for weeks to come.
Nightlife hotspots sprang into action from 11.59pm Thursday, emboldened by new public health measures permitting 20 fully vaccinated patrons indoors and 50 outdoors.
The reopening came days after Victoria reached a 70 per cent full vaccination rate among residents aged 16 and over, a major milestone on the nationally-agreed reopening plan.
Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Sally Capp was among the revellers, and took to Twitter to celebrate the reopening of inner-city haunts Butcher’s Diner and Angel Music Bar.
Preliminary foot traffic data provided by the City of Melbourne shows pedestrian levels through the CBD on Friday morning far outstripped the four-week average, but largely remain well below pre-lockdown levels.
As business operators and staff celebrate the staged return to normalcy, some hospitality venues are set to lose out on the initial rush.
On Tuesday, Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed all venue staff will need to be fully vaccinated to participate in the sector’s reopening.
Until that point, many venue managers and staff had assumed they would operate under the same restrictions flagged for authorised workers, who have until November 26 to receive their second dose of the vaccine.
Justin O’Donnell, president of the Chapel Street Precinct Association, said many venues in the popular inner south region are still unable to open their doors because of the new double-vaccine requirement for staff.
“There’s a lot of confusion,” O’Donnell told Business Insider Australia.
“The last minute changes to whether staff could work with a single vaccination or double vaccination has caused chaos and a lot of extra stress.”
A high percentage of venues struggled to find enough fully-vaccinated staff in time for a Friday reopening, O’Donnell said, with operators planning to keep their doors shut lest they risk a hefty fine.
Most impacted venues will have fully vaccinated staff in a week or two, O’Donnell added.
But with an influx of patrons and not enough venues to serve them, it seems likely that many Melbourne pubs, cafes, and restaurants will lose out on vital trade during the reopening rush.
Meanwhile, non-essential retailers remain confused as to why they are still not permitted to open their doors, O’Donnell said.
With the Christmas season fast approaching, every missed opportunity for in-person trade is “devastating”, he added.
“Every week is devastating. And to then be treated differently to other sectors is tough.”
Speaking to “Today”, Australian Industry Group CEO Innes Willox said Melbourne business owners were being impacted by “inconsistencies all over the place.”
The next phase of the reopening plan, set to arrive in early November when Victoria surpasses an 80 per cent vaccination rate, ought to arrive with more clarity, Willox added.
“Business needs certainty,” he said.
“It needs time to open up, and we can’t just have a decision made one day and then business being told it can operate the next. It just doesn’t work like that.”
As small Melbourne businesses focus on their financial health, the state’s physical health remains a key concern.
The state recorded 2,189 new local cases of COVID-19 overnight, with a further 16 deaths due to the virus.