SYDNEY - In its biggest relaxation of COVID-19 controls, New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, is to allow bars, cafes and restaurants to serve up to 50 people at a time starting June 1, although strict hygiene rules will still apply.
Each person must have at least 4 square meters of space. Patrons will not be permitted to stand, mingle or dance. Currently, venues are allowed to host up to 10 diners. Authorities in New South Wales say a further relaxation of the regulations on June 1 is a "big step" in the state's economic recovery from the new coronavirus.
"This will be with very strict guidelines in place," State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. "It has to be in adherence to the 4-square-meter rule, so some venues are small in space. They will only be able to have as many customers as is allowed in that space according to the 4-square-meter rule, and nobody will be able to take bookings of more than 10 people. Nobody will be able to be standing up in these venues. You have to be seated at a table even if it is a pub."
Other states and territories in Australia's federated system have different approaches to winding back lockdown restrictions. In South Australia, pubs can serve food to up to 20 diners; 10 inside and 10 more outside. In the state of Victoria, authorities are taking a phased approach to reopening the hospitality industry. By mid-July up to 100 people will be permitted to eat at a cafe or restaurant. In Western Australia, public swimming pools, libraries and places of worship can reopen under strict distancing and hygiene regulations.
Easing disease controls will boost the Australian economy, which is facing its biggest contraction ever because of the COVID-19 crisis.
An administrative bungle has forced the federal government to revise a historic economic rescue package announced in March. Officials had said mammoth wage subsidies would keep 6.5 million Australians in work during lockdowns. They now say mistakes in applications from businesses mean the plan will now cover 3.5 million workers, cutting the cost from $85 billion to $45 billion.
Opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese said it's an embarrassing error.
"This is a mistake you could have seen from space, and this is a government that could not run a bath," he said. "How about someone in this government accept responsibility just once?"
Just over 7,000 confirmed coronavirus cases have been recorded in Australia since the disease was first reported here in late January. As of Saturday, 102 people had died.