Cafes in Melbourne’s CBD will bear the brunt of the state government’s backflip on the planned increase of workers allowed in offices, following fresh snap restrictions that came into force overnight.
Premier Daniel Andrews announced the new state-wide restrictions at 10.30pm on Wednesday, which then came into effect as soon as 11.59pm that same evening.
The plan to have up to 75% of workers back in the office from Monday has been paused, and masks are once again mandatory in indoor public spaces, with the exception of when eating or drinking.
Nicholas Tan, manager at Hash Specialty Coffee on Melbourne’s Hardware Lane, says it was “frustrating” to hear the planned increase to the cap on office workers had been paused when he became aware of the restrictions this morning.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
“Keeping the cap to 50% on workers is the most frustrating, because most of our customers still carry masks with them,” Tan tells SmartCompany.
“We do have masks available here, so if customers don’t have one, we can always give them one,” he says.
Tan says reducing the number of workers in the CBD is yet another blow to the daytime food industry, which had been affected more than restaurants and bars.
“The main part of the city, like Swanston Street, those areas are seeing a lot of improvement, but the laneways are still really struggling at the moment,” he says.
“We’re not even close to trading at pre-COVID levels. We’re probably at about 30%. Unfortunately, that’s how it is.”
The sudden public health measures come as a hotel quarantine worker at the Grand Hyatt Hotel tested positive to coronavirus on Wednesday, after last working there on January 29.
The Victorian government released a list of exposure sites visited by the worker, and anyone who has visited the locations at the specified times must isolate for 14 days and get a coronavirus test.
Preparations for the Australian Open, which is due to begin on Monday, have also been thrown into chaos as 600 players and officials have been told to get tested and isolate.
For CBD cafes, the Australian Open would normally bring a wave of customers to the city, however, this year, that is less likely to be the case.
Tan admits that while it is unfair restrictions are being placed on businesses and individuals while the tennis continues, it is not unexpected.
“It’s unfair, but a lot of 2020 has been incredibly unfair, so it’s really nothing new at this point,” he says.
“At this time what we need is more business, because we are getting less support, but our business is not improving,” he explains.
Both JobKeeper and the Victorian Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme are winding up on March 28.
On Wednesday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the state’s public health team is still determining how the worker contracted the virus, but said they are “assuming the worst” and acting on the basis that he may have the highly infectious strain of the virus out of the UK.
New restrictions are needed because “we have to assume that this person has in fact infected others,” Andrews said.
Prior to this case, which will be recorded as community transmission, Victoria had gone 28 days without a locally acquired case of coronavirus.
For one owner of several CBD cafes, who does not wish to be named because one of his businesses is located in a government-owned building, the snap restrictions are a sign of the state government’s “incompetence”.
“Through their incompetence, the first thing they do is close households and businesses down, but the tennis still goes on. It’s just ridiculous,” the cafe owner tells SmartCompany.
“Obviously they were stuck. They don’t want the tennis to drop off, because they don’t want to be seen as incompetent globally.”