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6 Aug 2020 13:24
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  •   Home > News > Health & Safety

    Pubs and clubs have reopened as coronavirus restrictions relax — but was that a good idea?

    Experts question the decision to reopen nightclubs in some parts of the country, as coronavirus cases continue to surge in Victoria and fears about COVID-19 clusters in New South Wales grow.


    Experts have questioned the decision to reopen nightclubs in some parts of the country, as coronavirus cases continue to surge in Victoria and fears about COVID-19 clusters in New South Wales grow.

    All nightclubs were forced to close under the nation's first lockdown.

    But as most Australian states brought the spread of the virus within their borders under control in recent months, many allowed patrons to return to local pubs and nightclubs.

    Since then, photos and video of crammed dance floors and packed line-ups into venues in various locations have emerged on social media and a cluster of 21 COVID-19 cases has been linked to the Crossroads Hotel in south-west Sydney.

    Daily new coronavirus case numbers in Victoria remain in the triple figures.

    Peter Miller, a psychology professor at Deakin University in Geelong, does not believe nightclubs should be open in any state or territory.

    'A recipe for disaster'

    Professor Miller worked for 10 years as a bouncer and said restrictions on dancing and drinking were "a bit of a fantasy" and doubted whether they could be effective.

    "It's kind of a recipe for disaster," he said.

    "I think you'd have to assume that people, when they're drunk, are going to behave like drunks.

    "The reality is people go to nightclubs to do what they want, not what they're told."

    Professor Miller said he believed the risk of transmission should be eliminated entirely before nightclubs opened.

    "If there's any chance [of coronavirus spreading], it's deeply irresponsible to open the clubs," he said.

    "It's not about saying, 'Don't have fun,' it's about realistically assessing the risk."

    The Australian Medical Association's South Australia branch president, Dr Chris Moy, said he understood there was a desire among the community to socialise, months into the pandemic.

    "It's very tough for a lot of people who feel like they're isolated, or feeling a bit estranged from their social needs," he said.

    "These activities where people want to get together are the fabric of our society."

    He said nightclubs were places where the virus might spread, but bars, big family events or weddings could also pose a risk.

    Dr Moy warned much was still unknown about the virus.

    Reopening clubs 'not a mistake'

    In South Australia, nightclubs were allowed to reopen — albeit with a ban on dancing while drinking alcohol — late last month.

    SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens raised concerns about crowd behaviour inside and outside of nightclubs in Adelaide's CBD on the weekend of the reopening.

    He said dancing within nightclubs was known to be a high-risk activity for COVID-19 transmission and some venues had failed to protect patrons, but insisted allowing nightclubs to operate had not been a mistake.

    "We were giving every sector of the community the opportunity to trade as viably as possible," he said at the time.

    Similar rules operated in Queensland, where nightclubs reopened a little more than a week ago.

    Patrons in the Sunshine State are allowed to order drinks at the bar but prevented from dancing or gathering on a dancefloor.

    Tasmanian clubs are subject to similar restrictions against dancing, while Melbourne nightclubs — like other businesses across the metropolitan area — have had to close amid the surge in outbreaks there.

    Some SA venues previously operating as nightclubs said they were now functioning under the rules of a bar.

    Adelaide laneway venue Zhivago, which has been fined for what police said was a breach of the restrictions, said it was one of them.

    Ian Horne, chief executive of the Australian Hotels Association SA branch, said it was "appropriate and timely" that fines were issued.

    "It's hard to imagine that they couldn't have understood that there is no dancing in South Australia," he said.

    "It sits very comfortably with us and it sends a strong message to remind the rest of the industry that they have to take their responsibilities very seriously."

    Mr Horne said there had been a high level of compliance within the hospitality industry, and praised the police.

    "The police have done a great job in working with industry in communicating, educating, encouraging, and I think it's worked extremely well," he said.

    'Moronic behaviour' attracts harsh punishment

    NSW Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Tony Cooke said the "moronic behaviour" of people disregarding the state's rules would be met with harsh penalties.

    "The moronic behaviour of people at dance parties has got to stop," he said.

    "We will continue to seek these people out and, where appropriate, take actions."

    Sydney's The Star casino was fined $5,000 yesterday after a group of people were seen standing and mingling while drinking there on Saturday night.

    Under current NSW coronavirus restrictions, venues are allowed to welcome an unlimited number of people, as long as they remain seated and maintain a distance of four square metres from each other.

    Earlier in the day, The Star's operator confirmed a man who later tested positive for coronavirus had visited the casino while infectious on July 4.

    It's the second time the NSW regulator has issued a fine in the past seven days relating to a public health order breach.

    Last Thursday, a pub in Sydney's eastern suburbs was fined $5,500 after a crowd of 250 people had queued in close quarters outside the hotel the night before.

    Liquor and Gaming NSW found The Golden Sheaf Hotel had breached COVID-19 public health orders in not enforcing social distancing within the tight-knit queue.

    On Saturday, a pub in Jindabyne was closed following its third formal warning about contravening coronavirus rules within the previous week.

    Police forced the closure of the pub for three days and said "further infringement action was likely".

    The same day, footage emerged of several private parties in Sydney's Bondi Beach area, which were broken up by police, though no fines were issued.

    The maximum number of people currently allowed to gather at a home is 20.

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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