NSW pubs, theatres and places of worship say ‘freedom day’ will be their biggest lifeline in months

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Pubs, theatres and places of worship all agree — next week’s “freedom day” in NSW will be the best Christmas present they could wish for.

On Wednesday Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced major changes to COVID-19 restrictions would come into effect from next Monday, with the 4-square-metre rule replaced with the 2-square-metre rule at all venues except for gyms and nightclubs.

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said millions would be injected into the economy and many people would be back in jobs after “freedom day” on December 7.

For Solotel, who own dozens of Sydney pubs like the Bank Hotel, the Kings Cross Hotel and the Albion Hotel, the future suddenly looks a lot less grim.

CEO Justine Baker said many venues which have been relying on JobKeeper can now stand on their own feet again.

“The previous lift was great… but we hadn’t seen a really significant lift in our revenue and our workforce is still half of what it was pre-Covid. So this is fantastic,” she said.

Big pubs will benefit the most she said, with Opera Bar in Circular Quay going from 30 per cent to 60 per cent capacity.

Ms Baker said this means hundreds of hospitality workers will be back on the tools, with an estimated 20 per cent lift in employment within Solotel.

“But the compounding factor is there is a tightening labour market in hospitality, with a lot of overseas workers no longer in Australia,” she said.

“So its a great opportunity for young people to come into hospitality.”

Solotel is looking forward to seeing more details about the return of dancing, with 50 people allowed on indoor dance floors from next Monday.

“I’d hate to be the person writing that legislation right now,” Ms Baker said.

“[But] it will mean post-10:00pm trading venues will definitely see a lift. And it’s that sense of joy that people get from dancing with their friends. Right now, that’s more important than ever.”

CBD bar and restaurant Employees Only is pleased more people can be welcomed through its doors but there’s still one rule limiting their intake significantly.

“Standing and drinking will be the big thing to help the hospitality industry because it means we can fit more people in,” venue operations manager Thomas Stott said.

“You can’t make space for tables without having the floorspace.”

Although from next week patrons will be allowed to stand outside, they will still need to be seated at a table when indoors.

Mr Stott said the fact people could now dance indoors was positive news but there was confusion about how this would be implemented in bars without designated dance floors.

He said the Government needed to provide more clarification, especially given how eager patrons were to get up and move.

“It’s a grey area we feel. We’re not sure if people can dance at their tables or have to be in a designated area,” he said.

“I mean technically any floor is a dance floor but we don’t have a designated area in the venue for dancing so we’re not quite sure how it will work.”

With the four-metre rule reduced to two, Employees Only can increase capacity from 75 patrons to 110.

Carols back on the agenda for Christmas 2020

At the Ensemble Theatre in Kirribilli, the phones are ringing off the hook and the ticketing department is busy working out new seating arrangements.

Theatres can currently only operate at 50 per cent capacity but by next week they can fill 75 per cent of their seats.

The Ensemble hasn’t opened its doors since March but artistic director Mark Kilmurry is now looking forward to selling more tickets to their first show back in January next year; ‘Kenny’.

“It was great news. Theatre is only half the deal without an audience, you need an audience to do what you do,” he said.

“It’s just been very exciting, relief all round really.”

Masks are compulsory for the audience given the intimate setting and Mr Kilmurry said the theatre was configuring seating so there were spare seats in between groups.

“It’s a bit of a nightmare for our ticketing department but they are coping very well.”

Capacity at places of worship will also double, providing a greater sense of community for congregants.

The National Imam’s Council said the changes will finally bring religious groups more in line with other parts of society.

“There has been a very guarded approach to places of worship in contrast to pubs, clubs and gyms and it just didn’t make sense,” spokesperson for the Imam’s Council Bilal Rauf said.

“So today there was a real sense of joy that things are slowly going back to a state of normality and we can start attending mosques in larger numbers.”

Mr Rauf said the ability to congregate was a mental health issue for many people and it’s been particularly difficult on Fridays when it is mandatory for Islamic men to attend prayer.

From Monday, some of the Sydney’s biggest mosques, including Lakemba and Auburn, will be able to increase capacity from between 50 to 100 people up to 150 to 200 people.

At St Andrew’s Cathedral in the CBD, the timing of the eased restrictions couldn’t be better as the church prepares to welcome many visitors over the Christmas period.

Capacity will increase from 250 to 500 — still only a fraction of the more than 1,000 people who would normally attend services over Christmas, Dean Kanishka Raffel said.

“But very importantly, we’ll be able to sing again! We’ve been on mute for eight months,” Reverend Raffel said.

“Christmas without carols, it would be terrible! So we are really pleased that people will be able to get together and sing.”

Under the new rules, up to 50 performers can sing indoors, with no caps for outdoor performances.

By Paige Cockburn and Jean Kennedy (Original ABC Article)

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