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Exterior seating at St Dreux Cafe
Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan

As restaurants and cafés prepare to reopen, one strict rule could keep many shut

Restrictions on the amount of space each patron must be allotted could deter smaller venues from reopening

Written by
Maxim Boon

It’s the announcement that many people across the state have been anxious to hear for weeks: NSW will begin relaxing social restrictions from Friday May 15, as part of a staged plan to reboot the economy and restore some level of normality to our way of life. However, while a suite of changes to the current rules will come into effect, they are deliberately minor and incremental, the state’s chief medical officer Dr Kerry Chant said.

For example, cafés and restaurants will be allowed to reopen and seat up to 10 diners at a time. However, each individual patron must be allotted four square metres of space, which could make operating impractical for smaller venues. NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said that the four-square-metre rule, which had been previously introduced on March 20, a week before the state-wide closure of hospitality venues, was deliberately restrictive. “We realise that this rule will only make a small proportion of businesses viable, but it’s a start,” she said.

Below shows how a 16-square-metre venue – roughly the size of an average Sydney cafe – could be configured to accommodate eight customers and two staff. While this will be far below capacity for many venues, the premier clarified that multiple seatings of 10 diners would be allowed during trading hours, which may preference a reservation-only policy, with strict time allocations for each sitting. 

four-square metre rule graphic.
Graphic: Time Out

Bars will remain closed, although it is not clear if pub restaurants will be allowed to operate if they observe the 10-patron limit.

Despite the welcome news of relaxed restrictions, the tone of Berejiklian’s media briefing was undeniably stern as she urged people across the state not to be complacent in the coming weeks. During a media briefing on the morning of Sunday, May 10, Berejiklian said the state was “not yet ready” to adopt all the recommendations of the federal government’s plan to reopen the country by July, due to the large number of cases in NSW, which has logged the most infections in the country. Of the restrictions that prime minister Scott Morrison said could be immediately relaxed, NSW authorities will not allow travel within the state for holidays or recreation, and police will retain current powers to fine or arrest anyone found breaking this rule.

Other changes could in some instances be more restrictive. In addition to allowing gatherings of 10 people in businesses and public spaces, private residences will be able to welcome up to five guests, although children will now be included in this number. Previously, a maximum of two adults, with an unlimited number of children, could visit other residences.

Berejiklian was unable to give a concrete timeline on when NSW might progress to stage two of the rollback, saying that the state would rely on the health data to inform its decision making. She also urged caution from the people of NSW, and that the state needed to remain vigilant in observing physical distancing and enhanced personal hygiene to prevent a “second wave” of infection. In other countries where restrictions have been lifted, such as South Korea, a sharp increase in new cases has led to the reintroduction of lockdown measures. “We’re at the point we are at now because we pulled together and did the right thing,” Berejiklian said. “We are still vulnerable. This disease is still deadly. We want to address issues around the economy and around mental health, but we also want people to be safe. We have to keep working together or those freedoms could be lost.”

Full details on what restrictions will be lifted in NSW from May 15 can be found here.

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