By Colin MacGillivray
BUSINESSES across the Mitchell Shire continue to struggle despite an easing in the State Government’s COVID-19 restrictions for regional Victoria.
The government announced on Thursday lockdown measures would be scaled back in regional areas.
The move means people in regional areas can travel freely across the state except for metropolitan Melbourne.
Hospitality businesses have been able to reopen with a cap of 50 patrons and a density limit of one person per four square metres, with group bookings capped at 10 people.
All regional businesses must check the IDs of patrons and cannot serve people living in metropolitan Melbourne.
All indoor tourism remains closed, while outdoor tourism can resume with a cap of 50 people per venue.
Hotels and accommodation venues can take bookings from a single household, intimate partners or two people from a single person social bubble only.
Despite regional businesses being allowed to reopen for customers, many have found the rules difficult to manage.
Wallan’s Hogan’s Hotel manager Darren Freestone said a cap of 50 patrons at the large venue had significantly slowed the business.
“It’s hard with the limited numbers. It’s better than just doing takeaway, but it’s still not great,” he said.
“We do two sittings so we can get 100 people, but being such a large venue it’s not great.”
Mr Freestone said there had also been a process of retraining staff to consistently check patrons’ IDs and ask patrons to scan QR codes.
“It takes up probably an extra staff member just doing that sort of stuff,” he said.
“A lot of people have questions for us because they’re not too sure what restrictions are in place.”
Member for Euroa Steph Ryan called for the State Government to overhaul its Service Victoria app and QR code check-in system.
“The NSW app allows you to check-in more than one person on the same device, making it easy to add dependents or people who are unable to check-in because of age or disability,” she said.
“It also provides a confirmation on your screen once you have checked-in, allowing businesses to easily verify that the rules have been followed, and provides better data for contact tracing by encouraging people to check-out when they leave a venue.”
While some hospitality businesses have resumed trading, others have elected to remain shut.
In a post on its Facebook page last week, the Lancefield Hotel said a lack of financial support from the Federal Government meant it would not be opening until restrictions eased further.
“Unfortunately due to new regional restrictions for the hospitality industry in conjunction with not having the government step-up we were given last year, we cannot open our doors just yet,” the post read.
Other businesses like Trawool Estate and Trackside Kilmore will not resume dine-in service until at least this Friday.
The government announced last week it would provide weekly cash payments of $500 for people over 17 who usually worked more than 20 hours a week and $325 for people who worked less than 20 hours, but the payments were only available to people who had been in lockdown for more than seven days, meaning regional workers missed out.
Mr Freestone criticised the lack of Federal Government support for regional workers and said it was a blow for staff.
“I think everything was travelling really well. Employment was good, we were trading at full capacity and doing really well, employing more staff each week,” he said.
“Now all those new staff in the past couple of weeks unfortunately haven’t had any work at all.
“There’s full-timers on annual leave because there’s not enough work to keep them all going.
“There’s no government support, so employees are definitely panicking a little bit about where it’s all at and how long it’s going to last for.”
The State Government has announced a $32.2 million package to encourage regional tourism in Victoria.
Victorians will have access to 80,000 regional travel vouchers valued at $200 each to help operators affected by the current restrictions.
Member for Macedon Mary-Anne Thomas said people could find more information about the vouchers and how to apply at business.vic.gov.au/grants-and-programs/regional-tourism-support-package.