As the COVID restrictions are gradually eased and a few restaurants reopen to 10 guests at a time, the industry breathes a sigh of relief. But there is still a lot of uncertainty as to what lies ahead. And still a way to go.
Lots of restaurants have been doing takeaway. Some for the first time – and very successfully. But takeaway is a very different experience to dining in. For many of those restaurants that have reopened, the 10-person limit does not achieve quite the same experience as in the past. Even with the 20-person limit, half-empty dining rooms and timed meals create a different atmosphere. And the guest limits means bookings are hard to get and some restaurants are reporting to be booked out for several weeks.
This is good news. People are going out. And the pent-up demand and the desire to interact again means more venues may consider opening.
But we must still be vigilant. On Monday, McDonalds closed 12 stores in Melbourne after a delivery driver tested positive for COVID-19. Several hundred McDonalds employees and those in contact with the driver have all been advised to self-isolate at home for 14 days. This is obviously highly disruptive and highlights the continuing need for vigilance and social distancing.
Research and experience from overseas suggests that short interactions are not the driver of infection. Many of the outbreaks around the world are linked to places where people congregate for extended periods. The main risk is spending time with people in enclosed environments such as at home, in trains and buses, in crowded offices, in gyms and in packed restaurants and cafés.
So, it is important to continue to require people to self-distance. As I highlighted last week, social distancing is still key. It IS the new normal. Just because we are easing social distancing restrictions does not mean the virus has become less deadly.
On another issue, the NSW and Qld Premiers are “at war” over the closed Queensland border. Queensland does not want to reopen the border for fear of waves of holidaymakers creating new COVID hotspots. This might have some logic, as on Tuesday, NSW Health declared two new COVID hotspots – Sydney’s Hills District and Penrith. But the border restrictions are hurting the tourism industry and holding back the “return to normal”. It is a very delicate balance in confidence and optimism.
So – will everyone behave and maintain a safe distance? Will the authorities relax more restrictions? Will we be able to cross the borders soon? I guess we will have to wait and see.
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By Jeremy Ryland
Information correct as at 8am Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Photo by Agathe Marty on Unsplash