Scott Morrison gives clearest signal yet on restaurants and cafes reopening

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has launched a big push to get businesses running again, giving his clearest signal yet that restaurants and cafes will be allowed to open soon.

"We now need to get a million Australians back into work, that is the curve we need to address," he said after a National Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. The economic costs were adding "enormous pressure" to the need to get businesses open again, with the economic losing $4 billion a week, he said.

On Friday, the government will announce which businesses are allowed to reopen first, with national cabinet deciding on Tuesday that the country would reopen to a new "sustainable" and safe level by July. Social distancing rules and international travel bans will last longer, with interstate travel restrictions also possible.

Mr Morrison wants students back at school and children back in childcare and community and elite sport looks set to begin again.

He has given increasingly clear messages that restaurants and cafes are also top of the list.

Hospitality had taken the biggest hit in the crisis, with 441,000 jobs stripped from restaurants, cafes and other hospitality businesses in recent weeks, he said.

Another 146,000 had been lost in retail, and 108,000 in arts, sport and recreation.

Mr Morrison said when restaurants were closed, the impact flowed to others including food growers.

"When restaurants and cafes are closed they're not buying from the producers like they were before, and so there is a compounding of the effect," he said.

"So keeping those places closed - and there have been very good reasons for having them closed - but the longer that goes on, it is not just the waiter and the chef that is affected, it is the food producer, it is the supply chain."

The government didn't want to delay any longer in getting people back to work.

"We have had great success on flattening the health curve and that is great and we all wanted that. But it has come at a price and we have to now start balancing that up," he said.

Mr Morrison also released figures on the jobs lost in each state, showing 32,100 jobs gone in Canberra so far this year. NSW lost the most, with 490,300 jobs gone from the state, of a total of 1.5 million jobs around the country.

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Last Friday, Mr Morrison said Australians had "earned an early mark", with the spread of the coronavirus well under control.

"We need to restart our society. We can't keep Australia under the doona," he said then.

But the national cabinet agreed that while a series of steps would be agreed nationally, the states and territories would decide their own timing for each step.The Northern Territory has already announced plans to remove many of its restrictions by June 5.

The government is working on a set of rules and guidelines to help businesses operate safely and Mr Morrison called on businesses to come forward with their own plans.

"The last thing that business wants is what's called the sawtooth, where you're open, you're shut, you're open, you're shut," he said. "That is not good for business. There needs to be the certainty to keep moving forward all the time."

Clubs, pubs and restaurants have been closed for more than six weeks, since Monday, March 23. Since that date, only takeaway has been allowed. Churches, casinos, cinemas, gyms, indoor sports venues and entertainment venues were also closed on that date. Funerals and weddings have also been strictly curtailed and tight restrictions have been placed on the number of people allowed to meet at one time.

Mr Morrison said he hoped border restrictions in Australia would be lifted in time for people to holiday around the country in the next school holidays.

But Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy urged caution, saying domestic travel should be opened "gently", and not include vulnerable communities. It was not something he was keen to encourage in the first phase of re-opening, he said.

The first easing of restrictions must be very cautious so its impact on coronavirus case numbers could be tested, he said.

Mr Morrison said five million people had now downloaded the mobile coronavirus tracing app.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter launched a new cache of information at https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/ where businesses can get advice on how to operate safely. For restaurants, it includes information such as how to keep people 1.5 metres apart and give each person 4 square metres of space. But it acknowledges that staff can't always maintain that distance, and says where that is not possible other measures should be put in place, such as protective equipment, staggered start times, limiting numbers and giving each worker their own equipment.

Professor Murphy said start times should be staggered so everyone was not catching public transport at the same time. Everybody should be sanitising their hands, workers should not crowd into a small room for meetings and should not travel interstate for meetings that could be held via video, he said. If workplaces used "hot-desking" they should be sanitising carefully, he said, with measures aimed at limiting contract between people in the workplace.

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This story PM gives clearest signal yet on restaurants and cafes reopening first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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