As social distancing remains a key weapon in the battle against COVID-19, disease and health experts have predicted that pubs and bars will be among the last businesses to re-open once lockdown regulations begin to be relaxed.
It’s tough news for Australia’s hospitality industry with Peter Collignon, a Professor of Microbiology at the Australian National University saying that because of winter and the very nature of contact in pubs, it could be over four months before venues re-open.
Professor Collignon told the Sydney Morning Herald: “Unfortunately I don’t think until September this year at the earliest. Winter is coming and that is our next big risk time – for all respiratory viruses, including this one.
“I think for a while longer with large intermingling groups inside, we need to play safe which is better than being very sorry afterwards.”
Last week Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that restrictions will be reviewed regularly and planning for the medium to long-term has begun. But he warned that seven precedent conditions would have to be met before the relaxing of any conditions could take place.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt added to those comments this weekend, saying: “Restaurants, cafes and pubs will reopen when the health advice and government deem it safe to do so.”
He added: “Even when that decision is made, there may still be significant measures to maintain social distancing and to support good hygiene.”
And while this weekend saw reduced numbers of new infections, many state leaders and officials have played down the likelihood of this resulting in the quick relaxation of restrictions.
Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said: “It’s too early to lift those restrictions now. We’ve had those lower case numbers, but not for that long. We’ve just to keep working on it and see what the result is.”
Victoria recorded just one new case of COVID-19 overnight, but Premier Daniel Andrews warned against getting carried away with this news.
“These numbers are not an invitation for us to simply remove all the rules,” he said “They’re a validation our strategy is working. It is challenging but it is working.
“These rules are challenging, very difficult but we have got to stay the course on this or it will get away from us. There will be no pulling it back. Tens of thousands of people with this virus, thousands in hospital and hundreds perhaps thousands of people will needlessly die.”
He added: “I don’t think it is possible to have cafes, restaurants and bars open anytime soon.”
In NSW 3500 people were tested yesterday with six new cases confirmed, and while Premier Gladys Berejiklian did not specifically address hospitality venues re-opening, she stressed the need for restrictions to stay in place.
“Our focus remains in NSW on keeping the spread, stopping the spread, containing the spread, but also but also reducing the community to community transmission, that’s really important.
“Everybody has been doing really well, in the main, in terms of respecting the restrictions and we ask that to continue.
“Community to community is what can cause a flare up and that is why we have to stay vigilant, because when you stop trying hard it can spread very quickly and that’s the last thing we want.”
Also speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Julie Leask, Public Health Professor at the University of Sydney, said it was “hard to imagine a return to what we had with pubs for some time”.
But she offered some hope adding: “If we keep living with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future, then we will need to accept a new kind of normal.
“It may be that there can be a compromise whereby elements of the pub life can return with a lot of limitations on numbers and distancing. But government would need to also believe it’s feasible to monitor and regulate that setup.”