Greater freedoms for Canberrans as South Australia opens border and restrictions on small eateries dropped

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Canberrans will have more travel and dining options this week as the ACT and South Australian governments continue to gradually ease coronavirus restrictions.

As of tomorrow, ACT residents will be able to fly to SA without needing to isolate themselves for 14 days when they arrive.

The decision — which the SA Government extended to Canberrans but not to New South Wales residents — coincides with a minor update to ACT restrictions, which will allow small hospitality businesses to serve more customers.

From Friday, Canberra restaurants, cafes and bars will be able to host 25 people regardless of the venue’s size.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he was “delighted” by the relaxing of the border rules, a decision that SA’s pandemic transition committee had made this morning.

However, some ACT businesses said the limits on venue capacities were being lifted too slowly, given it had been more than two months since a confirmed COVID-19 case in Canberra.

Tasmania and Queensland borders next, says Chief Minister

Andrew speaks seriously to the camera.
Andrew Barr hopes the SA decision will influence the Tasmanian and Queensland governments.(ABC News: Niki Burnside)

Mr Barr said today’s border announcement was the result of patience and diplomacy.

“We’ll now work closely with Canberra Airport and with the airlines to quickly establish Canberra to Adelaide flights. 

“Importantly, on a national level, [this announcement] is a significant step towards the restarting of domestic aviation in Australia between jurisdictions that had previously been closed to each other.”

Canberrans who wish to travel to SA will need to complete an screening test online and declare they have not been to NSW or Victoria in the 14 days before they travel.

SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said that, for the “foreseeable future”, NSW residents would still be obliged to quarantine for a fortnight if they entered the state.

Mr Barr said he was continuing to negotiate further border openings for Canberrans, and hoped the South Australian decision would benefit the ACT.

“I suspect that some of the other states will watch this closely, be encouraged by South Australia’s move, encouraged by the ACT’s pandemic management to date, and this is important to get the ball rolling on more of these such arrangements,” he said.

“I’ll be in contact with Premier [Peter] Gutwein in Tasmania. I think they’re the next most likely. Queensland also in the coming months. Western Australia, I suspect, will be a longer proposition.”

Eateries welcome easing of limits but warn it is not enough

A man at a cafe with a dog under the table.
Many small venues, such as Barrio in Braddon, have had their capacity capped since reopening after the coronavirus shutdown.(ABC News: Alkira Reinfrank)

Meanwhile, ACT authorities are relaxing some restrictions on food businesses, which, from Friday, will be allowed to serve at least 25 patrons.

Cafes, bars and restaurants with normal occupancy limits of 25 or fewer people will no longer need to operate under the “one person per four square metres of usable space” rule.

“It’s the news we’ve been waiting for months,” Sam Burns, who owns Braddon cafe Barrio, said.

“We knew that we had to do the right thing and it was going to be a certain amount of time to stay with the restrictions.

“But we were really hoping to move to this and so to have this news come through is really fantastic.”

Mr Burns said it had been difficult turning customers away.

“It’s hard having to be that enforcement point with people,” he said.

But some owners said the changes left medium and larger businesses behind.

Amici Wine Bar in Canberra’s CBD has been limited to 17 people inside throughout the pandemic, but its larger outdoor seating area pushes the venue beyond the 25-person limit it needed to benefit from the changes.

“The frustration for us is if you have a little cafe and don’t have an outdoor area, you can have 25 people even if it is a tiny space.

“Yet because we can seat more people outside, we aren’t eligible for more indoor patrons despite our usual capacity being more than 60.”

A man in a grey T-shirt smiles.
Amici Wine Bar director Antony Arena is happy restrictions are easing but says the latest changes won’t help medium-sized businesses.(ABC News: Selby Stewart)

Mr Arena said a more “equitable” approach would benefit a wider range of businesses.

“The opportunity you have to make money … is during summer trade, and a lot of businesses rely on this to survive.

“If [ACT Health] don’t make changes before things start to warm up and we miss out on that Christmas trade, a lot of businesses will fail.”

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