Adapting to the ‘new normal'

Compared to the second wave lockdown in Victoria – and Melbourne in particular – those of us in NSW have been more fortunate. Those taking public transport to and from work, and those walking around the city CBDs of Sydney and Parramatta would have noticed increased numbers of persons out and about, returning to their offices and places of work and, increased numbers of persons socialising in cafés, bars and restaurants. People in our community have now adapted to the ‘new normal' for in-person socialising: signing into cafés, bars and restaurants using electronic QR codes, answering questionnaires on their current symptoms and leaving contact details for COVID-19 tracing purposes.

Amendments to the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order (No5) 2020 (NSW) (‘the Order') on 15 and 22 October 2020

With the warmer summer months approaching, the NSW Government has announced further easing of restrictions on dining and events as a result of amendments to the Public Health Order being made effective on 16 and 23 October 2020.

So what are the key changes?

  • Hospitality venues – cafés, bars and restaurants

Hospitality venues with electronic entry recording (such as using electronic QR code or Service NSW App) to maintain customer records are now allowed 1 patron for every 2 square metres in outdoor areas of the venue – this is a departure from the 4 square metre rule that has been in place for some time for outdoor dining areas (Clause 9(2)(a) and Clause 9(3)(a)).  Indoor dining restrictions will remain however and the 4 square metre rule will still apply to indoor dining areas (Clause 9(2)(b) and Clause 9(3)(b)).

The occupier of a hospitality venue with electronic entry recording must now also ensure that the maximum number of persons on the premises (or, if applicable, per separate area if the hospitality venue has more than one area) is the lesser of: 300 persons or that permissible for the particular outdoor or indoor area – that is, 1 person per 2 square metres for an outdoor area or, 1 person per four 4 square metres for an indoor area (Clause 9(1)).

If the hospitality venue does not have electronic entry recording, the occupier of the hospitality venue must ensure that the maximum number of persons on the premises (or, if applicable, per separate area if the hospitality venue has more than one area) is the lesser of: 300 persons or 1 person per 4 square metres of space (Clause 9(4)).

What can be inferred from the distinction of those hospitality venues with, and those without, electronic entry recording is that it may be advantageous for a business that has an outdoor area for the consumption of food and drink to invest in a system of electronic entry recording to allow more patrons to be permitted into that outdoor area.

The Order also now provides for larger single group bookings with a maximum of 30 for an individual booking or reservation (not for a ‘significant event') which is up from the previous maximum of 10.  Further, no individual group entering or on the premises can consist of more than 30 persons (Clause 9(5)(b)).

  • Gymnasiums

The occupier of a gymnasium must ensure that there is a COVID-19 Safety Hygiene Marshal on the premises if the gymnasium is open for use and more than 20 persons are being allowed to use the gymnasium at the same time (Clause 10).

  • Places of public worship

For places of public worship, the maximum number of persons permitted onto the premises (or, if applicable, per separate area if the place of public worship has more than one area) has now been increased to the lesser of 300 persons (up from 100 persons previously) or 1 person per 4 square metres (Clause 11(1)).   For a religious service (other than a funeral or memorial service, or a wedding service, or a gathering following a funeral or memorial service or wedding service) the maximum number of persons is the lesser of 300 persons or 1 person per 4 square metres of space in the premises (Clause 17(4)).

  • Outdoor music rehearsals or performances

For an outdoor music rehearsal or performance, the organiser of such an event must ensure that the gathering involves no more than 500 participants (including: persons engaged in the rehearsal or performance and, spectators of the rehearsal or performance (Clause 21C)).

  • Outdoor public gatherings

The maximum number of persons permitted to participate in an outdoor public gathering is 30 persons (Clause 22(1)); there are a number of exceptions to this outlined in Clause 22(2), (3) and (4).

One of these is for a gathering for the purpose of a protest or demonstration about a government or political matter which is strictly limited to 500 persons (and with the organiser having a complying COVID-19 Safety Plan (Clause 22(4)).

That warm feeling

The notable recent measures implemented in NSW to ease restrictions on gathering and movement are further steps towards re-connecting members of our community and alleviating the financial impact experienced by businesses this past year.  However, that warm feeling this increase of freedom brings to us will only have a lasting impression if we all continue to take appropriate measures to prevent COVID-19 transmission including:

  • maintaining good personal hygiene;
  • maintaining social distancing and wearing a mask where social distancing is not possible;
  • adhering to the requirements to sign into establishments for contact tracing purposes;
  • staying home if we experience COVID-19 symptoms and, getting tested.

Times are a changing, but we are adapting to the ‘new normal'.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.