Drastic restrictions on mass gatherings announced throughout this week have led to events across Sydney being cancelled, but new rules announced by prime minister Scott Morrison at the latest COVID-19 media conference could well be the mortal blow to Australia’s hospitality industry.
On Monday, the prohibition of gatherings attended by more than 500 people was announced, before further stipulations ruled that indoor gatherings must be limited to just 100 patrons or fewer. Now venues will have to ensure each entrant has four square metres (2 metres by 2 metres) of space, even during usual operations. This means that a venue must be at least 400 square metres in order to admit the maximum of 100 patrons. Morrison said the restrictions should be viewed as “practical arrangements”, and that venues would be expected to manage the enforcement of these rules themselves, much like noise and RSA compliances.
Although these measures have been put in place to protect public health, this latest rule could effectively end the ability of many smaller cafés, restaurants, bars and hotels to continue offering traditional table service and in some cases continue trading altogether, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of people in Australia who work in hospitality. Several hospitality businesses, including much-loved Sydney burger chain Mary’s, have already made layoffs due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but further job losses seem certain as the crisis continues.
Morrison also offered a possible portent of things to come, saying that particular areas of a city could be placed under rigid "scaled-up" isolation protocols if they were deemed to be an infection hotspot. Addressing the question of how long these rules may be in place, the prime minister said that all measures currently announced would be in effect for “at least six months”.
Morrison offered some hope for struggling businesses, saying that relief would be available for those in “hardship conditions” and adding that rental tenants would also be able to access support and that landlords would be encouraged to be more lenient regarding payments in arrears.