New South Wales has declared “it’s happy hour” and announced a further significant easing of restrictions on pubs, restaurants and cafes in the state.
From June 1, the number of patrons allowed in those kinds of hospitality venues will increase from 10 currently to 50, well ahead of schedule, in a bid to revive the economy.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned that going out for a meal or a beer won’t look and feel like it did just a few months ago before the coronavirus pandemic began.
And there will be strict rules and regulations in place to ensure the privilege of going for a pint or a parma isn’t abused.
“It has to be in adherence to the four-square-metre rule,” Ms Berejiklian said.
That means, even with the limit on patrons lifted to 50, smaller venues won’t be able to house that many customers.
“So, some venues are small in space, they will only be able to have as many customers as is allowed in that space according to the four-square-metre rule.”
There will also be restrictions on group bookings, with no more than 10 people per booking allowed, she said.
“And also, nobody will be able to be standing up in these venues. You have to be seated at a table, even if it’s a pub. You have to be seated at the table, you have to be served at the table.”
That means, “no mingling, no standing around”, Ms Berejiklian said.
It’s understood that pubs will have to provide table service to customers, rather than having them buy drinks at the bar.
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“There are strict guidelines in place, which will ensure that we can do this safely,” Ms Berejiklian said.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro declared that “it’s our happy hour – it’s our time to wine and dine” and welcomed the easing of restrictions.
More than 250,000 people across the state are employed in the hospitality sector and many small and medium-sized businesses were at risk of collapse if restrictions weren’t wound back quicker, he said.
But he warned that the new freedoms shouldn’t be seen as a “free-for-all”.
“There will be regulations and guidelines in place for every restaurant, cafe, pub and bar across the state,” Mr Barilaro said.
“We want people to do the right thing. We want people to stay safe. We don’t want to see the transmission of COVID in the regions. That’s why our regulations and our guidelines that will be released next week will remain and remain strong.”
Between now and June 1, NSW authorities will finalise clear guidance and regulations for venues.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the new rules were a cautious return to normal life but warned people not to become complacent.
“As we do open up, and as we do make sure that our economy will lead again this nation, I also want to make sure that all of us understand that this virus is still out there, it’s still lurking, and we still have to be careful,” Mr Hazzard said.
“The way that we’re moving forward is in a cautious and sensible way. It has the maximum of 50 people in a cafe or restaurant, but a lesser number if the cafe or restaurant, defined by the four square metre rule, requires a lesser number.
“So, for example, if you had 80 square metres, you would have 20 people. That’s the basic lesson. Just do the basic maths.”
Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello, who is responsible for liquor and gaming regulation, said the government had liaised extensively with both the Australian Hotels Association and ClubsNSW to deliver the plan.
“This has been really considered and thought out to make sure we have the best regulatory settings in place,” Mr Dominello said.
All venues must develop a COVID Safety Plan consistent with NSW Health guidelines, he said.
Patrons are urged to contact venues to confirm their arrangements and capacity, rather than just turning up.