For a brief period in June, Victorians enjoyed a respite from the strangulation imposed on their lives by the measures to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Shops re-opened and restaurants which had been forced to shut their doors were allowed initially to serve 50 customers at a time but, to everyone’s disappointment that was rapidly revised to 20.
For a few all-too-brief weeks that was the status quo throughout the state – there was relief that the signs of a return to some of form of “normality” was a very real possibility.
Until two weeks ago, when the virus reared its head again in areas of western Melbourne and the process of shutting down the city began. The state borders are closed while its capital has been to sentenced to a strict six-week lockdown. This time with more police officers supported by members of the Australian Defence Forces out on the streets to monitor and punish any breaches to the lockdown regulations.
Of all industries affected by the lockdown the hospitality industry has been hit the hardest. While some hard lessons in adaptability have been learnt in the first round of lockdown, the element of uncertainty as to what the future holds has been a constant.
What if this lockdown goes beyond six weeks? What if people are too scared to get take aways or coffee for fear that they will be breaching rules. After individuals in breach of lockdown rules will be expected to pay on-the-spot fines of $1, 652 and business face a fine of $9,913?
For a coffee supplier who did not wish to be identified the lockdown of Melbourne was a devastating blow for his customers trying to recover from the first lockdown.
“When news of the lockdown was announced on Tuesday, I had eight customers who called in to withdraw orders. Some were in tears,” the supplier said.
“I don’t know what will happen over the next six weeks, I have spoken to other suppliers and they do not know. I have lost 60 per cent of my business over this.”
He said that when the first lockdown was lifted the government had initially said it would allow for restaurants to cater for up to 50 people at a time but immediately reversed the decision to 20 people.
“We were ready with coffee equipment to meet the expected demand but when the state government backtracked to 20, the market just went flat.
“Some of our clients were able to adapt to offering takeaways but many could not.
“I am worried about the elderly, like my mum, who will not be allowed to go out how will she break the routine of isolation.
“Colleagues have said that the government allowed all the protests but it was the retail industry that is shut down. For how long we can go on? I don’t know,” he said.
One of the strange reactions to the news of the lockdown on Wednesday were reports of people booking seats at restaurants for one last social gathering before the restrictions were to come into force at midnight.
Anna Sfrantzis, who runs the Kentro restaurant in Oakleigh and is president of the Oakleigh Village and Traders Association (OVTA), reported a roaring trade in the suburb.
“The bookings for Wednesday night have been very high. People know they will not be able to go out of the next six weeks. The supermarkets have been going crazy. It has been like a Saturday here,” she said.
Ms Frantzis that the decision to go into lockdown was very disappointing but that everyone would be comply with the regulations even if it could push many businesses to collapse.
“We have been more aware of what we need to do this time. As of Thursday we will gain focus on take aways and preparing ready-made meals that customers can heat up and eat at home.
“We hope that people will continue to support us and are not put off for fear of breaching the restrictions,” she said.
“The first weeks of the lockdown in March were devastating , – this time we are better prepared and know what to expect .
“We wish the best for everyone and good luck to everyone,” said Ms Sfrantzis.
One business owner who has also been scratching his head over the whole COVID-19 experience is Ang Christou of North Fish Chippery.
“Wednesday was very busy, everyone wants to eat before the lockdown – there is a bit of a panic on. We had so many bookings for Tuesday and Wednesday evenings,” he said.
It is a far cry from when he first opened the business in October, last year. For months people did not realise that the restaurant offered a menu that was a cut above the average fish and chip shop. It took a news report from Neos Kosmos and word of mouth to raise the restaurant’s profile.
Things were starting to look up by March, that was when the first lockdown snapped into place.
“There were anxious moments but business picked up. It was slow and steady. At first it was quiet but people got to know us and the take-away side went full tilt. We stuck to our guns and people found us out.
“We were also looked after by our landlord and JobKeeper so that we could see a light at the end of the tunnel. I personally ran a delivery service and this too proved popular with the people in lockdown,” he said.
“I am way more confident now about the coming six weeks of lockdown than I was about things more than three months ago,” said Mr Christou.