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Hoteliers lament “missed opportunity” as SA takes “baby steps” towards easing lockdown

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South Australia will take “baby steps” towards fast-tracking the easing of coronavirus restrictions as health authorities concede the State Government’s focus is shifting towards the “social and emotional” elements of an economic recovery, but the hotel industry remains “particularly disappointed”.

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Premier Steven Marshall today confirmed SA would extend dining in cafes and restaurants from this Friday, with up to 10 patrons allowed to dine indoors in addition to the current cap of 10 outside.

Significantly, they will also be allowed to purchase alcohol with their meals – a stricture previously banned in SA, to the chagrin of restaurateurs.

Marshall also announced that the ‘step two’ easing of restrictions including pubs and clubs – allowing seated dining in licensed venues – would be brought forward three days, from Monday June 8 to the preceding Friday June 5 – the beginning of the long weekend.

InDaily revealed last week that Marshall had told a Zoom meeting of regional mayors he favoured the earlier easing of those restrictions, but still had to convince his chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier, who favoured the later date.

Spurrier, a member of the state’s powerful Coronavirus Transition Committee who last week revealed she hadn’t realised the original date fell at the end of a long weekend, today conceded the logic underpinning the Government’s frequent assertion that it was relying solely on health advice had changed.

“We’re working through this, and we have a very good structure with the transition committee,” she told reporters.

“Coming into this pandemic, it was an emergency so Health really got to take the lead getting things shut down [but] coming out of it, we need an economic recovery… we know people are hurting from a social and emotional point of view.

“We also have the health considerations because we want to continue to be in a good place, and the transition committee – which has representation across all those dimensions – will continue to work through that.”

She described today’s concessions allowing seated dining in cafes and restaurants, as “baby steps”.

“We’re able to do that because we’ve had not only no cases but… very high testing rates,” she said.

“We’ve been working very closely with industry – industry does know their workplace the best [and] we’ve listened to what South Australians have said… we’ve listened to what the regions have said [and] it did make sense [given] there’s a long weekend to take the opportunity to open three days earlier.”

Marshall described the moves as “small changes, steps along the path that I think people of SA will really welcome”.

“We’ve listened to what the people of SA have said – they want to move to stage two sooner than the Monday of the long weekend,” he said.

“We’ve all been very happy with the level of input we’ve received from industry sectors, community organisations and individual businesses right across the state… we’re going to do this right.”

But the Australian Hotels Association, which had pushed for the earlier easing of restrictions, remains bitterly disappointed, with SA boss Ian Horne telling InDaily hotels, pubs, clubs and bars had been excluded from the benefits.

He said there was still no detail of the level of patronage allowed after June 5, and warned the Government against imposing “a cap of a particular number” of patrons.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” he said.

The lobby has pushed for up to 50 patrons, but said larger venues that can allow the requisite level of social distancing should be able to accommodate more, and to have fewer would not justify the cost of reopening.

But his main concern was the exclusion of many licensed premises from the new dining rules.

“What we’re terribly disappointed about is that hotels, clubs and bars were excluded from the ability of cafes and restaurants to have 10 people outside and now inside from Friday,” he said, adding that prominent venues such as Peel St and 2KW would not be covered by the new strictures.

“That’s the problem with not consulting as closely as we think the decision-makers should to get an understanding of the complexities and nuances of this industry,” he said.

Horne said many cafes and restaurants would be operating with up to 20 customers and serving alcohol this weekend while “the pub across the road will look across with a level of envy because for some reason their dining rooms are excluded”.

“It will exclude significant numbers of what everyone understands to be a restaurant – including some of SA’s best restaurants,” he said.

He said the rule separating other licensed premises from restaurants and cafes “wasn’t applied anywhere else in Australia but here [and] we thought this was an opportunity to correct it”.

“That’s a lost opportunity – and that’s a lost opportunity to re-employ staff,” he said.

“We’re particularly disappointed in the process and the outcome at this stage.”

Peel St Restaurant owner Ben McLeod told InDaily he was still working through the implications of the wording of the new restrictions, but “I’d suggest” his venue wouldn’t be allowed to open as it operates under a small venue licence.

“There’s no real clarification,” he said.

“They sent out the new Roadmap today – it’s not very clear.”

He said the restaurant was planning to open for sittings of up to 20 people from June 5, saying it was probably too hard to mobilise for a re-opening by this weekend in any case.

“It’s Catch 22 – if we were to open by Friday, we’ve got a lot of work to do – I don’t think we’d be able to pull it off anyway, to be honest” he said.

He said Peel St usually catered for up to 200 patrons on a standard Friday night, and “we’ll probably try to do two to three sittings a night” from June 5 – in the hope of turning over around a quarter of their previous business.

“We’ll just do it with the staff we need, and try and make a dollar – it’s not going to be easy though,” he said.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said police would be easing their own COVID-19 restriction measures, recommencing “block” testing for drugs and alcohol from Friday to coincide with the resumption of alcohol service in restaurants and cafes.

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