Lord Mayor says map out of lockdown offers “glimmer of hope” but traders fear patron cap “won’t cut any mustard”
By Brendan Rees
Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp says Victoria’s road map out of lockdown offers “a glimmer of hope for traders” as pandemic restrictions are due to be eased by late October.
Pubs, restaurants, and cafes as well as entertainment venues would be able to open outdoors with a limit of 50 fully vaccinated people under the state government’s “cautious” road map. Hairdressing would also return for the fully vaccinated with a maximum of five people in a salon at one time.
It comes as the city’s gruelling lockdown is forecast to end and the curfew scrapped when 70 per cent of the Victorians aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, expected to be around October 26.
Cr Capp welcomed the news, saying it “outlined the first few important steps towards reopening”, but added the council was “doing everything we can to get Victorians vaccinated as soon as possible so we can bring forward the steps in the road map”.
“The City of Melbourne is working tirelessly with businesses so that we’re ready to bring back the buzz as soon as we reopen,” she said.
We are determined to turn the city inside out by bringing indoor hospitality and trading outside onto our beautiful streets so that traders can welcome back more patrons and customers sooner.
John Scarda, co-owner of Berth restaurant in Docklands, said he was relieved his business had “something to plan for” under the road map.
It comes as he was forced to close his doors during the lockdown as takeaway had not been viable.
However, to keep staff engaged and provide a community service, his restaurant had teamed up with the Salvation Army to cook meals for the city’s most vulnerable who had to undergo hotel quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19.
“We can start speaking to our staff about vaccinations status and to make sure we’ve got a team to reopen with,” he said.
“I know a lot of people don’t agree [with the road map], that we’re getting out of it too slow. I think from our perspective at least there’s a goal now and there’s an end game.”
“If this is the last of the lockdowns as the Premier’s promised, we’re happy for it to be five weeks away.”
Asked how he felt about his staff managing patrons who would need to show proof of vaccination, Mr Scarda said while it would be challenging “we’ll obviously do whatever is mandatory and whatever needs to be done”.
“I think it’s a bit like the QR codes when they first came out … there was a lot of frustration,” he said.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to make it as easy as we can for our staff and for our guests.”
Jeff Gordon, owner-operator of the Melbourne Showboat Lady Cutler, said while he understood health was a priority under the restrictions, catering up to a maximum of 50 passengers “doesn’t cut any mustard at all – that’s not going to start us up”.
Even when the state’s restrictions are further eased when 80 per cent of Victorians are fully vaccinated – a target expected to be reached around October 26, Mr Gordon said seating up to 150 people on board his boat would prove “very difficult”.
“We’ll try but it’s not going to happen, they’re going to get up and wander around the ship. It’s a bit hard for us to see if that can work for us.”
Justin Dixon, owner-operator of Party Boat Cruises, said “hopefully with the roadmap coming out, there is a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel”.
“We’ll try our best,” he said, with hopes summer would provide a “great rebound” for business.
Johanna Maxwell, president of the Docklands Chamber of Commerce, said it was “pushing very heavily” for the “immediate recovery” of Docklands.
She said this would be “driven by small regular activations” while also offering Docklands Dollars, a voucher scheme designed to encourage visitors to eat, buy, and play in the precinct.
“We need a draw to pull visitors to the precinct as soon as lockdown ends,” she said.
“We are adamant that the harbour is the centrepiece and needs to be highlighted with a permanent activation and addressing of Central Pier.”
Meanwhile, the Lord Mayor said the council “looks forward to more information regarding the reopening steps beyond December”.
“This will be integral for businesses going forward so they can look forward to operating more normally,” Cr Capp said.
“We are also seeking clarity for the arts sector, such as theatres, museums and galleries.”
At their September 21 meeting, City of Melbourne councillors voted unanimously in support of introducing of a “health pass” system to safely reopen hospitality, arts and entertainment venues sooner.
Small business portfolio lead Cr Jason Chang, who runs a Japanese grocery store and restaurant in the CBD, described the lockdown as “absolutely horrible” and that the roadmap out of lockdown “doesn’t go far enough”.
“We are left with small steps forward with many businesses not being able to withstand another six weeks of closures,” he said.
Once Victoria reaches its 80 per cent double-dose target, retail and beauty services can reopen for the fully vaccinated and hospitality can resume indoors for up to 150 people.
Restaurant and Catering Australia CEO Wes Lambert said, “businesses genuinely risk closure” as cap restrictions on patrons under the road map were “impossibly low” for venues that did not have outdoor dining.
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive Paul Guerra also said “many businesses will not make it through” if they remained closed until November when Victoria hit the 80 per cent double vaccination target.
The City of Melbourne’s Business Concierge team is also ramping up its support for small businesses, with one-on-one advice to business owners impacted by COVID-19.
“We know ongoing restrictions are significantly impacting our local business owners, and many are struggling to survive. We’re hearing from operators who are scared and frustrated, and desperate to reopen,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said.
“Over the coming weeks, business concierge staff will be calling business owners directly to check in on their plans and wellbeing, and provide any further support in the lead up to the city’s reopening.” •