COVID road map offers “glimmer of hope” as traders gear up to reopen

COVID road map offers “glimmer of hope” as traders gear up to reopen

By Brendan Rees

Traders in Southbank have expressed relief for Victoria’s COVID road map, but many are holding their breath as to whether the city will reopen in late October.

Pubs, restaurants, cafes and entertainment venues will be able to open outdoors with a limit of 50 fully vaccinated patrons when the state’s first-dose vaccination rates hit 70 per cent – projected to be October 26 under the state government’s “cautious” road map out of lockdown.  

Hairdressing would also return for the fully vaccinated with a maximum of five people in a salon at one time.

Hamish Turner, owner-operator of Classic Steamboat Cruises in Southbank, said the road map wasn’t clear as to when cruises could return, but believed it was “at least five weeks away so that’s what I’m working on”.

“People are holding off for now, the phone hasn’t been ringing and emails haven’t been coming through,” he said.

“Things will be a bit thin on the ground financially even when we get to the end of this coming season.”

But he added, “I have no doubt we’ll be busy when it reopens but there’s no staff, they’re all gone.”

“Initially it’ll just be me; I’ll sell my tickets, I’ll drive the boats, like it was how I started 20 years ago.”

Nick Edgar, who runs Gordon Expresso café in Southbank, said he was relieved to have some rough dates to work towards.

Under the road map, hospitality can resume indoors for up to 150 people, and retail and beauty services can reopen for the fully vaccinated when Victoria reaches its 80 per cent double-dose target, which is expected on November 5.

“We’re really excited to reopen, I think having some vague kind of a road map is awesome,” Mr Edgar said, but added “we’re holding our breath with a positive outlook” if the road map was changed.

“We’re lucky we’ve got a big outdoor setting so I’m pretty positive … but there are so many businesses they have no outdoor setting.”

Asked how he felt about verifying the vaccination status of patrons, Mr Edgar said, “There’s no point fighting about it. Everyone’s going to have to do the right thing”.

Rob Reali, manager of Nine Yards café in South Melbourne, said his team was “just really excited to open and get the wheels rolling again because it’s been a long time”.

“Definitely a relief but to be honest we’re taking it day by day at the moment because we never know what’s happening,” he said.

“We already seat over 70 people outside so we’re lucky that we get to accommodate 50 people towards the end of October.”

Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp welcomed the road map, saying it offered “a glimmer of hope for traders” and “outlined the first few important steps towards reopening”.

But she said the council would “look forward to more information regarding the reopening steps beyond December” which was “integral for businesses going forward”.

“We are determined to turn the city inside out by bringing indoor hospitality and trading outside onto our beautiful streets so that traders can welcome back more patrons and customers sooner.”

Yarra River Business Association executive officer Tim Bracher said the “two big issues” facing most businesses were regaining a workforce and the “potential conflicts” of checking the vaccine status of customers.

“It’s a huge ask of the government to expect traders to ‘police’ the vax status of those who enter their premises,” he said.

“To do it effectively will require employment of at least one security guard per establishment, which is a burden for businesses already suffering devastating financial losses.”

“If they don’t adequately verify vaccination status, what will be the come-back on the business? It’s a potential new minefield for businesspeople to have to walk through.”

Last month City of Melbourne councillors voted unanimously in support of introducing a “health pass” system to reopen struggling businesses earlier.

A jointly-funded package of grants from the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments announced on September 30 will support thousands of businesses until Victoria reopens.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive Paul Guerra said the “latest round of funding will hopefully see businesses make it through”.

“Financial support is crucial, but the best support we can give business is the ability to trade. We want to get back to doing what we do best, which is serving customers and servicing the community,” he said.

“The Victorian Chamber will continue pushing for the Victorian road map to align more closely with what NSW has planned, with greater cap numbers for hospitality and retail.”

Meanwhile, the City of Melbourne’s Business Concierge team has ramped up its support for small businesses, with one-on-one advice to business owners impacted by COVID-19.

“We know ongoing restrictions are significantly impacting our local business owners, and many are struggling to survive. We’re hearing from operators who are scared and frustrated, and desperate to reopen,” the Lord Mayor said. 

“Over the coming weeks, business concierge staff will be calling business owners directly to check in on their plans and wellbeing, and provide any further support in the lead up to the city’s reopening.”

The council is also set to deliver $1.85 million in grants to activate key precincts and bring business events back to the city.

At the Future Melbourne Committee meeting on October 5, councillors voted in favour of a $1.75 million City Activation Grants Program, to be funded through the $100 million Melbourne City Recovery Fund – a collaboration between the City of Melbourne and the state government.

Under the program, businesses, interest groups and local enthusiasts will be encouraged to apply for grants of up to $50,000 for initiatives that can drive visitation to areas impacted by COVID-19.

Additionally, under the $100,000 Business Event Support program, grants of up to $10,000 as well as in-kind support would be available for conferences, exhibitions and networking events •

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