Pubs, cafes and restaurants in NSW will be allowed to host up to 50 patrons from June 1 in a “big step” towards easing the state’s coronavirus measures.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the change on Friday – just a week after venues were opened to up to 10 customers.
“We know this is a big step. But the regulations and rules we’ll be putting in place will be very strict,” she said.
“It is a significant time in the history of our state.”
The more relaxed restrictions mean Australia’s worst-affected coronavirus state will soon have its most relaxed social-distancing laws, bar the Northern Territory.
Ms Berejiklian’s announcement came just hours after NSW Health authorities confirmed the state’s COVID-19 toll had risen to 50 with the death of an 80-year-old woman in a Sydney hospital on Thursday night.
Her death took Australia’s fatalities to 101.
Ms Berejiklian said the change – which came earlier than expected as NSW eases its way back to normal – was about saving jobs and restarting the state’s economy.
“We already know that, for many of these businesses, they won’t be coming back at all,” she said.
“But for those who are viable, for those who have managed to hang on, we’re ensuring that we can work together to provide that safe environment.”
Ms Berejiklian had already announced that bans on regional travel would lift from June 1. Art galleries and museums will also open from then.
The move on pubs, cafes, bars and restaurants comes with strict guidelines – which will be enforced.
Venues will have to allow four square metres per person and cannot take bookings of more than 10. Only table service will be available.
“There is no mingling, no standing around. There are strict guidelines in place, which will ensure that we can do this safely,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“Even something as simple as having joint cutlery on a table won’t be able to exist anymore. A simple buffet won’t be able to exist anymore.”
The state government will produce a full checklist of COVID-19 guidelines by June 1.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the change would allow NSW businesses to make the most of relaxed social distancing measures.
“We’ve opened up the regions and now it’s our happy hour, time to wine and dine,” he said.
“Today’s announcement will allow regional businesses and economies to embrace, with the opening up of travel, the opportunity for businesses right into the June long weekend to fill their registers.”
Victoria’s high numbers
Victoria again had Australia’s highest number of new coronavirus infections on Friday, reporting 12 cases.
Five were linked to the abattoir cluster in Melbourne’s west, which has grown to 111 infections and is one of Australia’s worst.
Four returned travellers in hotel quarantine also tested positive, while two other new cases were detected through community screening.
Another case remains under investigation.
About 93 coronavirus cases in Victoria remain active.
Even with the new cases, the government says it is safe for students and teachers to return to the classroom on Tuesday, following six weeks of online learning.
Education Minister James Merlino on Friday outlined the exam timetable for year 11 and 12 students, ending weeks of uncertainty.
The Victorian certificate of education exams will start on November 9 and finish by December 2, meaning students will have their Australian tertiary admission rank in 2020 and university offers at the same time as students across the country.
“This provides much-needed certainty for our year 12 students who have done it tough this year, and their families,” Mr Merlino said.
As of Friday, 10,000 Victorian school staff had been tested for COVID-19. All had been cleared of the deadly virus.
There are about 80,000 teachers registered across the state.
Queensland back to school
Queensland students in all year levels will return to class next week – but there will be no cap on commuters or extra social distancing rules on public transport.
Transport Minister Mark Bailey said passenger numbers were down about 70 per cent due to coronavirus.
An increase is expected next week, with the mass student return and more workers heading back to offices and other workplaces.
“There’s certainly a lot of space on public transport at the moment, so there’s no problem in terms of social distancing,” Mr Bailey said on Friday.
Queensland reported another day without fresh COVID-19 cases on Friday.
Transport Workers Union Queensland secretary Peter Biagini said the behaviour of passengers would make or break the current trust system.
The union would push for commuter caps, and even physically tape off seats, if passengers flouted social distancing rules.
South Australian venues opened to indoor dining again on Friday, with alcohol also back on the menu.
SA venues can now seat 10 customers indoors for meals, along with 10 outdoors, while the state is already looking to further ease virus measures.
In coming days, the government will release details on how more restrictions will be eased from June 5.
South Australia again reported no new virus infections on Thursday (its most recent reporting). It also has no active cases.
Elsewhere, Northern Territory chief minister Michael Gunner defended his decision to keep borders closed. He said the NT, which has no active COVID-19 cases, was the “safest place in Australia”.
“The threat is still real and we need to stay vigilant, and our hard borders should stay in place for now,” he said.
He said he could not give an exact date for when that might change – but said it would come with plenty of notice.
“What I won’t do is pull out a random date when I cannot be certain,” he said.