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    Bruce Hartigan.

Mixed emotions for hospitality return from COVID-19 restrictions


A capacity increase for hospitality venues in regional Victoria has sparked mixed emotions from business owners across the Wimmera. 

New COVID-19 rules introduced on Sunday mean cafés and restaurants can now double indoor capacity to seat 40 patrons. Outdoor spaces can now host up to 70 patrons per venue. 

Individual bookings will still be capped at 10 people and social-distancing rules apply. 

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Horsham White Hart Hotel publican Bruce Hartigan has welcomed the new rules.

Before restrictions lifted he was forced to turn people away when he hit capacity.  

“The increase in limits will make it easier for us to run. Before, I would have to tell regular walk-ins to go away – that’s not good for our business,” he said. 

“You do that a few times and customers won’t come back.”

Mr Hartigan said he hoped to make the most of easing restrictions in time for the AFL grand final long weekend. 

“At the weekend I’ll have some people in for the grand final. I will actually make some money and we’ll be back in business, to a degree,” he said. 

“Hopefully with the festive season upon us, people will want to get out.”

Mr Hartigan said during the pandemic his business had taken a ‘massive hit’ financially. 

“We’ve had eight months of flatline, where we would be losing $10,000 a week,” he said. 

“If that went on for another 12 months, we’d be pulling the pin.” 

He said it was important to continue providing a social outlet for his customers.  

“We need interaction and the pubs provide that. It’s a great community support,” he said. 

While the Horsham venue would make the most of the changes to restrictions, Natimuk’s National Hotel publican Bill Lovel said the lifting of restrictions would make little difference to his venue. 

He said the government’s one person to four square-metre rule indoors would prevent him from increasing his capacity.

“There’s not going to be a great deal of change because we’ve only got three rooms so we can only put 10 people in each room while socially distanced,” he said. 

He said he would still be forced to turn patrons away when he reached capacity. 

“If we get booked out in the bar, locals can’t come in for a beer. It becomes a bit hard to balance,” he said. 

Mr Lovel said he would wait for restrictions to ease further. 

“I think it would work better for us if the government dropped it back to one person per two square metres,” he said. 

Mr Lovel said takeaway meals and support from Natimuk residents was helping his business remain economically viable. 

“We just want to say a big thanks to the locals who have been really good to us during this time,” he said. 

Along with hospitality changes, people in regional Victoria can now invite two people, plus their dependents, to their home. This replaces the social bubble. Libraries can reopen for a maximum of 20 people, with no more than 10 people per space. Outdoor religious gatherings can increase to 20 people and increase to 50 people from November 1.

The number of people allowed at weddings and funerals remains at 10 and 20 respectively.

RELATED: Brighter prospects for indoor sports


The entire October 21, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!