Restaurant bosses have slammed Victorian premier Dan Andrews for placing an arbitrary limit on venue patrons which threatens to wipe out hundreds of businesses, despite there only being 64 active COVID-19 cases in the state.
The restaurants, cafes and bars of Australia’s largest entertainment precinct, Melbourne’s Chapel Street, are calling on the Victorian Government for an urgent review on the numbers of people allowed to sit down in COVIDsafe businesses.
Dan Andrews has been labelled ‘Chairman Dan’ by the state’s Liberal Party Opposition for what they claim are his draconian COVID-19 lockdown measures.
Victorian restaurants, cafes and hospitality businesses are only allowed 20 seated patrons per enclosed space, irrespective of their size and ability to accommodate more people based on the one person per four square metre rule.
This is far less than NSW, which has had more COVID-19 cases, but allows up to 50 per eating space – and up to 500 in one indoor venue.
While smaller businesses have begun reopening, larger businesses have been forced to remain closed as overheads are too high to cater low guest numbers.
Melbourne’s Chapel Street precinct (pictured) is home to more than 2200 businesses, many of which are struggling to survive under the 20 patron capacity rule
The Chapel Street Precinct Association is calling on Victorian premier Dan Andrews (pictured) to amend capacity restrictions to reflect the one person per four metre rule so it is financially viable for large businesses to open
Justin O’Donnell, Chairperson of Chapel Street Precinct Association, which represents more than 2200 businesses, said the ‘one size fits all’ capacity regulation could see 20 to 30 per cent of the area’s largest employers permanently shut down.
‘Our State Government’s one size fits all approach does not work financially for many Chapel Street Precinct businesses, particularly many of our larger businesses that are some of our precinct’s largest employers, ‘ he said.
‘We are asking for those Chapel Street Precinct businesses that have a larger space (square footage) for limit numbers to be based on their areas available, while maintaining the one metre by four metre rule. The issue is the number cap that has been stamped for all businesses regardless of the size.’
‘This is now starting to look like lazy policy making and it is time for this to be reviewed urgently. This will help save many of our largest local employers and desperately help them reopen with numbers that are economically viable.
The plea comes on the day Australia’s chief health officers will meet to discuss the next step in easing coronavirus restrictions, which could see gatherings of up to 100 people being permitted, employees returning to workplaces and interstate travel getting the greenlight.
The patron limit for restaurants, cafes and other hospitality businesses will rise to 50 from June 21, with a further increase to 100 patrons planned for the second half of July.
However, Mr O’Donnell said every week capacity restrictions are in place adds financial burden to businesses that are teetering on the brink of ruin.
Small hospitality venues have been able to reopen while larger businesses have been forced to remain closed
‘It may not seem far away to July, but these decisions every week are devastating to our local economy and our people,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Every week of restrictions adds to overheads they still need to pay.’
‘For some of these businesses it will be too late. It is getting quite dire.’
Mr O’Donnell added that the ramifications of losing large businesses would be ‘catastrophic’ and would take a long time for the local economy to recover.
‘The larger businesses -anchor businesses- bring lots of people to the area. If those businesses go under, it will have a catastrophic impact,’ he said.
‘So far we have seen 12 businesses close permanently because of the restrictions, and we’ve seen others that are very close.
‘Our major concern is if these businesses do fail, because they are larger, it will take longer for another business to fill that space in our economy,’ he said.
‘It is heartbreaking to see businesses that have been well loved in this area close their doors and never return. Some of these employees have worked in these local businesses for years.’
In Victoria, only hospitality venues that offer dining are permitted to open such as restaurants, cafes and the bistro area of pubs. Other hospitality businesses such as bars, live music venues and areas of pubs where food is not served are not permitted to reopen
Mr O’Donnell said the current restrictions indicates the state government mistrusts hospitality businesses to abide by COVID-19 safety rules.
Retail businesses across the states are currently allowed to set capacity limits based on their meterage.
‘What it comes down to is not trusting businesses to do the right thing,’ he said.
‘It is disappointing because it shows a complete lack of trust in the businesses whose livelihoods depend on them following the rules.
‘We understand the need to social distance, we are taking this pandemic seriously, we dont want a spike in numbers, but businesses that have already opened are doing the right thing.’
Chrissie Maus, General Manager Chapel Street Precinct Association, called on Mr Andrew to take action to save jobs.
‘For every Chapel Street Precinct business lost, the economic strain becomes greater and the rebuild to our urban metropolis longer,’ she said.
‘We call on Mr. Andrews to show he really truly cares about the worker and jobs by just trusting businesses to do the right thing and manage their numbers safely.’
New South Wales, with a total of 3112 COVID-19 cases, has almost doubled Victoria’s 1167 infections.
While Queensland, which has recorded 1062, has opened its state to unlimited internal travel, cafes, restaurants, pubs and clubs will only be allowed 20 patrons with the reform brought forward on June 12.
Hospitality venues in ACT and TAS are limited to 20 patrons, while businesses in WA are permitted how ever many guest can be accommodated in a venue based on a one person per two square metre rule.
SA pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes are now able to host up to 80 customers.
Meanwhile, venues in the NT are allowed 100 patrons, so most pubs and restaurants are able to open at full capacity.
Mr O’Donnell said 12 businesses have already shut down and the precinct could lose hundreds more
The Chapel Street precinct is more than four kilometres long and runs through four of Melbourne’s trendy suburbs
Despite large venues remaining closed, Mr O’Donnell said there has been an overwhelming response to businesses reopening with many small restaurants reporting being booked out a month in advance.
The request comes as coronavirus cases in the state dwindle, with no new cases of COVID-19 recorded in the past 24 hours.
Cases across the country continue to fall, with only 61 new infections nationally this week. The majority of these belong to returned travellers who are in hotel quarantine.
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 7,265
New South Wales: 3,112
Western Australia: 599
South Australia: 440
Australian Capital Territory: 108
Northern Territory: 29
TOTAL CASES: 7,265
Dan Andrews has faced intense criticism throughout the coronavirus crisis over the harshness of restrictions in Victoria, which was the final state to ease restrictions in May.
Some Liberal MPs, including Tim Smith, have dubbed Mr Andrews ‘Chairman Dan’ after he signed his state up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative in October without approval from the federal government.
Chinese leaders were known as chairman until 1982 when the word president was used instead.
Last month, Mr Andrews has banned white-collar workers from returning to their offices and threatened fines for any boss who ignores the rules.
Critics have slammed Andrews tough approach, claiming it is leading to a deeper recession in Victoria than other states.
Nationwide, there has been 7265 confirmed cases of coronavirus including 102 deaths.
Of the total, 6706 people have recovered.
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Premier Dan Andrews office for comment.