By Graeme Kemlo

Having held our collective breaths for more than a month, Victoria’s restaurants and meeting venues finally got the increase in customers they’d been seeking – one person per two sqm. And we finally got to take off our masks outside, although they must be carried and worn in a crowd – supermarkets, shopping centres, department stores, indoor markets and on public transport, taxis and rideshare services.

Not that there’s much of a crowd in Melbourne. With premier Andrews unable to say what the limit will be on major events – “I can’t today give you a Boxing Day Test number or an Australian Open number,” he said.

Premier Andrews continued that this would be negotiated for each event. It appears this uncertainty is impacting visitor decision-making.

While praising the moves as “exactly what the industry wanted,” CEO of the Victorian Tourism Industry Council Felicia Mariani said the decision-making process for events and festivals should be streamlined. She said while regional tourism was booming, Melbourne had only 25 per cent hotel occupancy when it normally had 80 per cent.

Some private schools finished their year last Friday and judging by the traffic (or lack of it) on major arteries, Melburnians are still heading out of town following one of the toughest lockdowns in the world. That, plus the work-from-home rule which still sees employee numbers restricted in the office to 25 per cent until January 11, 2021, when they are set to rise to 50 per cent for private companies.

For business events this latest announcement changes the rules from a cap on numbers to the one person per two sqm density limit both inside and outdoors. Standing service such as at a bar is now allowed. And if a venue has fewer than 25 patrons the density limit is scrapped.

Weddings, funerals and religious gatherings now have a density limit of 2 sqm. However, the dance floor at weddings and nightclubs is still a hotspot capped at 50 people (one person per four sqm.). At home it is 30 per day inside or 100 outside.

Premier Andrews said QR codes were still mandatory and masks, an important element in the fight, must still be carried – “big crowds, people you don’t know, not everybody has QR coded in” – and he recommended masks where possible.

The premier said the changes he announced would be in place until the end of summer, adding his usual caveat, “[but] will continue to be driven by science and data.”