Like many regional Victorian business owners, Michael Ryan has had a tumultuous six months trying to trade through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Beechworth-based owner of award-winning Provenance Restaurant and Accommodation says his local community is “frustrated” by ongoing coronavirus restrictions, but that dealing with the pandemic needs to be the state’s “first priority”.
“It’s a bit myopic, but it needs to be,” he tells SmartCompany.
“Businesses are going to have to try and survive the best way we can.”
As the Victorian government considers whether to fast-track regional Victoria’s reopening plans amid falling case numbers in the northern parts of the state, there’s hope for many businesses forced to curtail their operations in recent months.
Under a reopening roadmap outlined by the government last Sunday, hospitality businesses in regional Victoria will be able to open for small groups of outdoor diners once average case numbers in the regions fall below five over two weeks.
But Premier Daniel Andrews has said this week that this could happen sooner rather than later, raising the prospect of regional Victoria moving through the second and third steps of the roadmap simultaneously.
“Regional Victoria is poised to take at least a step and potentially two steps. We will have more to say about that next week as we get closer to that 14 day marker,” Andrews told reporters on Friday.
While the 14-day rolling average of case numbers in metro Melbourne is 65.3, regional Victoria is faring much better at 4.7 cases.
Ryan says the prospect of a faster reopening is welcome news, but explains outdoor dining won’t be a solution for everyone struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.
“If restrictions are relieved in regional Victoria, we’ll still be in a situation where we won’t have access to the Melbourne or NSW markets,” Ryan says.
“It’s still far better than nothing … but it’s wrong to think of this as a one-solution fix, because [outdoor dining] isn’t going to work for certain businesses.”
Ryan is fortunate enough that his business is set out on a self-contained property with access to outdoor areas, with ongoing government support programs helping keep things going while restrictions remain.
But, based just 50 kilometres from the NSW border, Ryan is under no illusions about how multi-layered a gradual easing of restrictions will need to be before businesses in regional Victoria can really get back on track.
“The hardest thing is the NSW border might be the last thing to come back … that’s a big part of our customer base,” he says.
The Victorian government wants to get the state back to a “COVID normal” by Christmas, with hospitality businesses able to open without trading restrictions, but the NSW government is responsible for the border closure.