Coronavirus restrictions in ACT to be eased Friday, allowing 10 people to dine in restaurants and cafes

Some Canberra businesses will be able to reopen to up to 10 patrons as of midnight Friday, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr announced today.

Under the new measures, hospitality businesses will be allowed to open to small groups from first thing Saturday morning if they are able to follow physical distancing rules.

Other public facilities, including parks, playgrounds, some nature reserves, libraries, and community halls will also reopen to the public.

Mr Barr said the decision to lift these restrictions was in keeping with the national plan of staged phases announced last week by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The easing of restrictions follows last week’s move to allow up to 10 people to gather, indoors or outdoors, ahead of Mother’s Day on Sunday.

The gradual easing of measures was also dependent on people following the rules around social distancing and could be reversed if infection rates began to rise again, Mr Barr said.

New measures only suited to ‘small number’ of businesses: Barr

In allowing some business to extend trading to 10 patrons, Mr Barr made clear “the vast majority” of hospitality businesses would have to remain takeaway only for the time being.

He encouraged businesses to only reopen to seated dining if the new model worked for them.

“This will only be economic for a small number of small businesses,” he said.

The new measures will also make it difficult for pubs, clubs and bars to reopen, as any alcohol served would have to be accompanied by food, Mr Barr said.

“This is a first tentative and very small step for the industry,” he said.

“The advice from public safety experts is that the safest and easiest way to reach a more sustainable level of restrictions in our community is to ease them gradually.”

Under the phased plan announced by the Prime Minister last week, nightclubs are not set to reopen until the final phase.

Mr Barr said this was due to the higher risks associated with those venues that primarily served alcohol, citing surges in cases as a result of some bars in South Korea.

He said Canberrans would have to remain vigilant about social distancing and hygiene as these changes were made, to avoid an increase in cases.

“Should our local circumstances continue to stay positive then the number of seated patrons allowed will continue to increase in line with the national plan,” he said.

Parks, halls and reserves will also reopen

Public parks, playgrounds, reserves, dog parks, outdoor fitness areas, BBQ areas and skate parks will reopen this weekend too.

That’s with the exception of those public areas that were impacted by bushfires earlier in the year.

Namadgi National Park, which was ravaged by fire over the summer, will remain closed, while Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve will open once again to the public.

Community halls and centres will also be allowed to operate as long as up to 10 people only gather at one time, while ACT libraries will also begin to reopen.

Indoor sport, however, will not yet be permitted at halls or centres.

Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve Visitors Centre in August 2014.
Visitors will be welcome again at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve Visitors Centre from Friday.(ABC News: Kathleen Dyett)

Mr Barr said Canberrans needed to be careful as they started to use playgrounds and other public spaces again, encouraging people to wipe down surfaces before using them and to avoid touching their faces.

“We know people are excited to leave their homes, but for the time being, we still have to hold back on the activities that we used to do over the weekend,” the ACT Government announced in a statement.

“Staying at home as much as possible and avoiding large crowds is still the best way to protect yourself, and your family, from any potential risk of infection.”

The ACT remains free of any known active cases of COVID-19, with more than 12,000 negative tests conducted.

Three people have died from the virus in the ACT.

‘It’s bittersweet’: Business owners weigh cost of reopening

Canberra’s business owners are now working out if they will open to small groups this weekend after what came as a surprise announcement to some.

Lachhu Thapa, who runs the Happy Buddha restaurant in Belconnen, said his business was unlikely to open to seated patrons at the weekend.

“We would love to have people in here dining with us and talking to us about their week,” he said.

“I’m still thinking about [the changes] and at this stage we are not going to be opening with 10 people in the restaurant.”

He said the large restaurant, which could seat about 85 customers before the pandemic, could take 20 dining in without breaching social-distancing rules.

“If step two comes in on time, and for us to be able to have more patrons, then at that stage we will think about reopening,” he said.

He said the challenge of only serving takeaway had been made easier by loyal customers.

“I have to say that people are really looking after the businesses,” he said.

Mr Thapa stands near the bar of his restaurant, smiling into the distance.
Lachhu Thapa, who owns the Hungry Buddha restaurant in Belconnen, said he would not reopen to just 10 patrons.(ABC News: Craig Allen)

The move to allow the ACT hospitality sector 10 seated patrons took chef Sunita Kumar by surprise.

Ms Kumar, who owns Daana Indian Cuisine in Curtin, said she had expected restrictions to ease two weeks after the last changes, when larger gatherings were allowed late last week.

She said she they still working out whether it would be financially viable to open to 10 customers.

“At the same time, it’s a welcome change from not having guests at all, so we just have to figure out a way to make it work.”

She said half a week was probably not enough time to prepare the business for that kind of reopening.

“For us, it’s still an open question as to whether it would be this weekend, because I don’t think we’re geared up for that β€” we had to stand down a lot of our staff members,” she said.

“Not everyone who was working with us is available anymore so that means really putting together a fresh team.”

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