By Romy Stephens and Jed Lanyon
It was all systems go for cafes, restaurants and retail stores across the Yarra Ranges last week as Melbourne finally reopened its doors from lockdown.
In August Premier Daniel Andrews announced that most industries would be forced to close in a bid to contain the state’s escalating Covid-19 crisis.
The same day as his announcement, Victoria recorded almost 430 new cases of coronavirus.
But wind the clock forward to 28 October and that was all but a distant memory as business was finally permitted to reopen under eased Covid-19 restrictions – and the state recorded only two new cases.
Belgrave RSL vice president Anthony Stewart said there were plenty of smiles and excitement as veterans came through the doors once again.
“It was almost like we were opening for the first time,” he said.
But Mr Stewart admitted it had been challenging to navigate the numerous restrictions still in place.
“It was quite stressful because the regulations say you can have 20 people eating but in separate dining areas,” he said.
“Getting our head around all the regulations and trying to stay within those was slightly challenging.
Mr Stewart said the scars from the lockdowns would still be felt for quite some time.
“We have a lot of respect for our veterans and a lot of them getting put into isolation was one of those things that was very trying,” he said.
“It put a lot more pressure on them then what they should have had to go through.
“I dont think it’s something that’s going to be fixed overnight,” he said.
But the vice president said it was the community spirit that would continue to get them through any challenges ahead.
“We’ve all banded together and I think coming out of this, it’s going to make the whole of Victoria a lot stronger,” Mr Stewart said.
“I’d like to personally thank everyone that supported us and helped, we’ve got some volunteers that have been doing up to 60 hours a week during lockdown.
“The community support, it makes me feel so proud to be able to assist in it.”
Healesville’s Grand Hotel owner Lisa McKay-Campbell said she opened the venue on Friday 30 October for weekend table service.
“We’re still yet to play with our opening times just yet,” she said. “After the next few weekends when the wall of steel opens up, that’s when we’ll look to open up everyday.”
But as for locals wanting a feed, Ms McKay-Campbell said the phone hasn’t stopped ringing.
“We’ve missed a lot of calls just because we’re not here everyday, so we’ve had to set up an online booking system.”
She said one challenge to the new rules and patron limits had been asking people to leave after their two hour time block had expired, in order to allow the next group of customers to dine.
“People come in for a feed and a few drinks and the hardest part has been asking them to leave … There have been a few that have not been happy with it, but they’re well aware when you make a booking that it has to be for two hours. It is what it is.”
As Victoria continues to limit the spread of coronavirus, hospitality should see further restrictions eased from 8 November if the Chief Health Officer’s targets are met. The capacity of restaurants, bars, pubs and cafes will increase, with up to 40 people allowed inside and 70 outside.