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Today's the day: Borders closed for month but at least the pubs are open


Regional tourism bosses say the new move to allow Queenslanders to travel anywhere in the state will help the industry claw back hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue lost from the COVID-19 shutdown.

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From midday today, Queenslanders can travel and stay overnight throughout the state, as part of next stage of restrictions easing.

From lunchtime today, hotels, pubs, restaurants and cafes previously limited to 10 patrons will have their capacity lifted to 20 people.

From Friday, that would be extended to allow 20 people per section, for larger establishments.

At Australia’s biggest pub, the Eatons Hill Hotel in Brisbane’s north, the devil is in the detail.

Publican Rob Comiskey said it would be a logistical nightmare to separate groups of 20 at his venue, which was built for large events and could take more than 6000 patrons at a time.

“We’re just trying to adjust every day; [I’ve] spoken to all the managers again, trying to understand the detail behind this; just rosters to suit that; trying to communicate back to staff members,” he said.

“We’re definitely not making money — it’s how much we lose.

“This venue here loses $1,000 a day, just to run the electricity on it so 10 [extra] people aren’t even going to pay for the electricity.”

Pubs, restaurants and cafes are also responsible for keeping a log of who’s been inside and face fines for failing to do so.

Comiskey said the pub would use its booking system to streamline the process.

“If you’re diligent and make sure you’re on top of that I think it can be done,” he said.

Townsville Enterprise CEO Patricia O’Callaghan said she met with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk last week and told her some of the recovery measures needed to be fast-tracked.

“The tourism and hospitality industry has been essentially shut down, the numbers here in the north show that we were losing up to $90 million a week that domestic travel was prohibited,” she said.

“I think that the message has been clear all over the state — we want to get back to work. We want to put people back in jobs.”

The Ville Resort and Casino in Townsville has had no revenue stream since it was forced to close on March 23.

The venue’s CEO Michael Jones said it had been a waiting game ever since.

“We had to stand down around 600 staff … we had a number of enquiries with people over the past few weeks, particularly from the Mackay region who have been wanting to come up,” he said.

The Ville casino empty during coronavirus restrictions in Townsville

The Ville CEO Michael Jones says the tourism industry needs further easing of restrictions. (Supplied: The Ville Resort And Casino)

Jones said while this would not mean business returning to normal, it was a step in the right direction.

“We can’t make money out of that — the restrictions of 20 people. Even though we can apply for more with a COVID-safe plan, please don’t underestimate, the property won’t be profitable,” he said.

Jones said the resort needed about two weeks to restock bars and restaurants, and ensure staff could return safety.

He said “the million-dollar question” for everyone in the industry was, when would things return to normal?

“We do need to get back to what we were before, acknowledge though that that may be a few months off yet and the easing of restrictions is sensible and appropriate.”

‘We’re definitely not making money’

Gym owners are more optimistic after being told they can finally reopen 10 weeks since closing their doors.

Chantal Coleman, who owns two gyms in Brisbane’s northwest, said the time away had allowed her to reinvent her business model, adding online services.

She planned to open one of her gyms from today, but continue running group classes online for the time being.

“Because it’s gone so well, we’re not in a hurry to bring that back to the gym, we’d rather take our time and make sure the community’s safe,” she said.

Businesses missing interstate trade

Noosa Short Term Accommodation Association chair Finola Thompson said further easing was good news.

“I think it did come as a bit of a bolt out of the blue, so it certainly wasn’t what we were expecting Sunday afternoon,” Thompson said.

She said this time of year was normally the busiest season for interstate visitors and that tourism operators needed some certainty on the border reopening.

“In reality in the winter a lot of our guests come from interstate so the big issue for us is still the issue of when will the border open,” she said.

Remote travel health risks

Rural Doctors Association of Queensland president Dr Clare Walker said travelling to regional and remote areas did carry risk for vulnerable people.

“It’s really important that people who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus understand the limitations of rural and remote health facilities,” Walker said.

“There are no intensive care beds in remote facilities, so if you are a vulnerable person and you do get unwell — whether it’s coronavirus or anything else — and you require intensive care, that will not be able to be provided in remote areas.

“In most circumstances, patients are often transported by Royal Flying Doctors and that is something we can do as long as the demand doesn’t outstrip what the service will have available.”

Walker said anybody who chose to travel needed to accept a high level of community responsibility.

“We won’t know if people are travelling from town to town unwell, even with just a cough but feeling OK,” she said.

“Those people still need to get tested.

“We can see in Blackwater how easily it can turn up in a town and we really have no idea how it got there.”

– ABC / Brittney Kleyn

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