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Punters hit dancefloor as venues push to lift density cap

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South Australia’s nightlife revellers have enjoyed a weekend of “unbridled joy” back on the dance floor, as the hospitality industry seeks further easing of restrictions to eliminate “confusion” that exists for larger venues trying to adjust to the new rules.

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The relaxation on dancing restrictions, announced last Wednesday, allowed smaller licensed venues hosting 200 or fewer people to accommodate drinking and dancing, while bigger venues holding between 200 and 1000 people needed to have a designated dancing area for 50 people.

The restrictions apply for the number of patrons on a premise at any given time, and all venues must continue to ensure patrons check-in using QR codes and maintain a distance of one person per two square-metres.

SAPOL released the written direction at 8:53pm last Thursday night before the changes came into effect at 12:01am Friday, setting the stage for a highly anticipated weekend with several Hindley Street clubs holding large events to mark “the first dance”.

Sugar nightclub owner Driller Armstrong said the scenes at his Rundle Street venue on Friday night were “joyful” and “uplifting”.

“The dance floor was simply amazing,” Armstrong said.

“The unbridled joy was incredible to witness, [there were] so many messages the following after Friday night saying ‘wow, what a feeling’.

“It’s probably the best feedback I’ve received from a night where we haven’t had an international DJ playing.”

Armstrong said police inspected his venue during the night and found no issue, but he noted that social distancing requirements had caused problems outside his venue.

“The problems that is happening now though, is on Friday and Saturday night, we had lines so long,” he said.

“The police said to my security that the people in the line had to be spaced 1.5 metres apart, to which my security replied: ‘how far down the line are we supposed to police that?’

“The congestion on the footpath and in the streets … it’s just really really ridiculous, especially when there’s no COVID here and everyone’s dancing.

“So that’s the next battleground really, the capacity situation.”

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said police would provide advice to venues and give “warnings where appropriate”.

“Our view is that we will only take more strict action when we see deliberate non-compliance or a disregard for the advice that’s provided,” Stevens told reporters last Wednesday.

“We’re trying to help them manage their businesses as effectively as possible, but we need their help in ensuring that they run in accordance with these current restrictions.”

Bigger venues face management dilemma

Sugar, located on Rundle Street about 100 metres across from East Terrace, has a full operating capacity of 225 people which has been cut to 106 during the pandemic. The smaller number of patrons means the club is not required to have a designated dance floor that limits the number of people dancing at one time to 50 people.

However, for larger venues like The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, this provision is proving a challenge to manage.

The pub, which prides itself as a live music venue, runs three separate stages: a front bar with 54 people, a restaurant stage with 68 people and their main venue stage which can host more than 200 patrons.

Despite the three stages being in different spaces of the hotel, the dancing restrictions applies to the total number of people at the whole venue.

Co-owner Melissa Tonkin said The Gov chose only to run three seated shows over the weekend as they are still unsure how to manage the requirement for a 50-person dance-floor.

“I spoke with the band and explained that we were going to have to take quite a large section of the room to make a dance floor of 50 people, and we just didn’t think it was viable,” Tonkin said.

“[The band] decided they wanted everyone to have the same experience, and they didn’t want to have a situation where only 50 people were allowed to dance and everyone wasn’t.

“I guess we’ve got to work out where we would set the dance floor up that doesn’t impact on the rest of the crowd who are all seated still watching the show.

“We are still in the process of working out how we’re going to make this happen.”

She added that The Gov has been “very conservative” in adjusting to new restrictions, and has “done the right thing all the way through”, however, the venue “really needs” the dancing capacity to lift to more than 300 patrons.

Australian Hotels Association CEO Ian Horne said there was “confusion” within the industry about the 200 patron limit associated with the restrictions.

“The industry will find it difficult to understand why there’s a bigger risk for 210 people in a venue, compared to 190 people in the venue,” Horne said.

“One would hope sooner rather than later, that a more simple structure can exist because some of our nightclubs and live music venues have not been able to conduct their business as it was designed to since the 23rd of March last year.”

Chief Public Health Officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said the restrictions on larger venues are in place to minimise the risk of a “super-spreader” event.

“It’s not dancing itself that is the problem … it’s when you get a large number of people in a poorly ventilated small room and they’re all dancing together,” Spurrier told reporters on Wednesday.

“We know that this is a set up for super spreading and we’ve seen that overseas.”

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