This morning the ACT Government announced that from this Friday micro-venues will be able to have 25 patrons, regardless of size. For small, medium and large venues, the 1 patron per 4 square metre rule will continue to apply.
I understand how this is disappointing this is.
We have to accept that if not for the Victorian situation, today’s announcement would most likely have been very different. Because of the Victorian outbreak, the ACT Government decided that it would not be moving to a 1 patron per 2 square metre rule at this time.
The new restrictions on patron numbers look like this:
This minor, modest change won’t make any difference to most of Canberra’s hospitality industry.
It will benefit some micro-businesses with very small premises, but the precarious financial position of hundreds of small businesswomen and men, and their staff, in Canberra’s hospitality industry will remain unchanged.
In the ACT, 5000 hospitality employees have lost their job because of the coronavirus restrictions. 75% of the remaining employees are severely underemployed. This announcement offers no hope for any worker desperate to get her or his job back, or any business owner hoping to turn a profit.
Worse than being economically ineffectual, the change is simply illogical.
A 100 square metre venue operates with twice the costs of a 50 square metre venue. Double the rent, double the staff, double the utilities, double the bank loan. Despite having double the fixed costs, this flat patron limit means the 100 square metre venue will have the same patronage and therefore the same revenue as the smaller venue. This translates to half the yield-per-square-metre, and half the profitability.
The health authorities seem to be picking winners without explaining any underpinning health rationale. Our industry would undoubtedly accept the health rationale – if it even exists.
The key takeout from today’s announcement is that, regrettably, there is greater inconsistency in the public health directions.
Micro-venues are apparently COVID-Safe, but small, medium and larger venues apparently are not. This is despite the AHA’s proactive suggestion to make patron sign-in mandatory.
Brothels can resume – obviously without social distancing – but God forbid you’d be allowed to drink a beer standing up.
Forty people are allowed to sweat and breathe all over each other in a game of community rugby, but our industry can’t have forty people in a small restaurant.
Our industry deserves to have these inconsistencies explained to us by the health authorities.
Until patron density is applied evenly across hospitality businesses, our industry has every right to continue to feel singled out by the health authorities.
The Victorian situation does show the consequences of getting this process wrong. The need for caution and compliance remains.
The most prudent approach from here is to watch and analyse the Victorian situation for another fortnight, and then re-consider more appropriate and fairer restrictions for the hospitality industry.