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Outside from the street at Four Ate Five
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Cafés and restaurants to be among the first Australian businesses to reopen

Small businesses are included in stage one of the three-stage plan to reopen the country

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The Morrison government has released its ‘national principles’ outlining how social restrictions should be gradually lifted in the coming months. Far from being binding legislation, the stage-based approach has been described as a guide for making Australia "a Covid safe society"; when and how these guidelines are followed will be decided by state authorities in the coming days and weeks. 

The government has recommended a three-stage process to take place over the next two months, with shutdown restrictions almost totally lifted by July. Each stage could last roughly four weeks.

Stage one is to “enable greater connection with friends and family”. 

  • Gatherings of up to 10 people in businesses and public spaces, and up to five people may visit other private residences;
  • Children can return to school;
  • Small cafés, restaurants and retail spaces can reopen, but will be limited to a maximum of 10 customers. Restaurants and cafés will need to allow four square meters per customer. Brendan Murphy, the government’s chief medical officer, acknowledged that this would mean many businesses would need to remain closed. Bars and gaming venues will remain closed;
  • Certain sporting facilities such as swimming pools and golf courses will be allowed to open, as well as libraries, community centres, playgrounds and outdoor gyms. Boot camps with a maximum attendance of 10 people will also be allowed;
  • Local and regional travel for recreation purposes will be allowed, but interstate travel will still be prohibited.

Stage two will further relax restrictions.

  • Gatherings of up to 20 people will be allowed in public spaces, businesses and private residences;
  • Gyms, salons and spas, galleries and amusement parks will be allowed to reopen;
  • Caravan parks and campgrounds will reopen and interstate travel for essential reasons will recommence.

In both stage one and stage two, employers will be encouraged to allow their employees to work from home if it is possible to do so.

Stage three will see a more expansive lifting of restrictions.

  • Gatherings in both public and private spaces will be capped at 100 people;
  • Workplaces and offices will reopen;
  • Nightclubs, bars, food courts, saunas and larger venues will be allowed to reopen, but limited to a maximum of 100 customers at any one time;
  • All interstate travel will be allowed and trans-Tasman travel with New Zealand will be considered.

International travel will not be allowed "for the foreseeable future", the PM said, adding that the three-stage plan would take Australia "a long way back, but not all the way back" to life before the crisis.

There is no concrete timeline, with the decision to progress to the next stage to be assessed on three criteria: medical evidence showing that infections are slowing; a high number of daily tests; and effective tracing to manage community transmission. The prime minister emphasised, as he has in every media briefing in the past two weeks, the importance of downloading the government’s CovidSafe app to enable state governments to progress through the three stages smoothly. 

Throughout all three stages, physical distancing, enhanced cleaning and sanitation, and expanded testing regimes will still be in effect.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has previously said that no formal ruling on how the principles would be applied in NSW would be made until at least May 11, a decision that has disappointed many people across the state hoping for eased restrictions on private gatherings ahead of Mother’s Day on May 10. 

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