Sole traders back to work: Here’s what we know about Melbourne’s new ‘second step’ restrictions

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews arrives at a press conference in Melbourne on Tuesday, July 22, 2020. Source: AAP/James Ross.

Metropolitan Melbourne has moved into the second step of the COVID-19 recovery roadmap, and with case numbers even lower than required, Premier Daniel Andrews has relaxed restrictions for businesses a little earlier than scheduled.

As of 5am this morning, Melbourne’s curfew and shopping restrictions have been lifted.

While the 5km limit still applies, permitted workers are now able to exercise up to 5km from their workplace too.

‘Social outdoor activity’ is also allowed for groups of up to five people, from a maximum of two households, in a public outdoor space.

The Premier also announced a phased return to on-site learning for schools, from October 12, and allowed religious gatherings for up to five people, plus a faith leader.

The move to step two also included the early relaxation of some business restrictions.

And, while the changes didn’t go far enough for everyone, some workers and sole traders will be able to go back to something almost resembling BAU.

The changes came into effect in light of Victoria recording just five new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, and three lives lost.

The 14-day rolling average for the past 14 days for metropolitan Melbourne now stands at 20.3.

An olive branch for sole traders?

As per Sunday’s announcement, sole traders working in the outside gardening and landscaping space can return to work, as can retail pet grooming businesses.

Private inspections for real estate will also be able to resume, for a maximum of 15 minutes at a time, and the 5km rule will not apply.

These changes go some way towards addressing the concerns of sole traders, most of whom are not eligible for the state government’s grants scheme, unveiled earlier this month.

Grants of $3,000 are available for sole traders who are tenants or licensees in commercial premises. But, of the more than 400,000 sole traders in Victoria, only about 8% are actually legible.

At the time, sole traders in the real estate industry expressed their disappointment with the package. Those who run mobile dog grooming businesses were also “gutted”, after being scheduled to reopen in the third step of the roadmap, from October 26.

And, back in August, Jim’s Mowing boss Jim Penman also called for Andrews’ resignation if he refused to relax restrictions for sole traders working alone on a site, saying “such activities present no risk to anyone”.

Workplaces revived

Andrews also announced that some 127,000 people would be able to go back to work, more than was initially scheduled for this time.

Supermarkets and food distribution centres will return to full capacity. Abattoirs and seafood and meat processing plants will also be able to increase their workforce “in line with the levels we know are safe”, the Premier said in a statement.

According to a report from the ABC, that means 80% capacity for meat and seafood processing plants and 90% for poultry processing.

Wholesale businesses will also be able to reopen at 67% of their normal worker capacity, and manufacturing businesses are able to return to up to 90% of their usual workforce.

No joy for retail and hospitality

The extended relaxation of restrictions on Sunday fell short of allowing retail businesses to open their doors just yet. And hospitality businesses are still only able to operate on a takeaway-only basis.

But, the Premier did suggest the roadmap will “no longer be defined by dates in the calendar”.

Instead, moving to the third step will be based on reaching the target number of cases — an average of five new cases per day, over a 14-day period, and fewer than five in total from an unknown source.

He added that there would still be at least three weeks between the steps, meaning we could be looking at a move to step three by October 19.

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