The Northern Territory will be the first of Australia’s eight states and territories to significantly ease its coronavirus restrictions on the hospitality industry.
On May 15, the NT will enter its Stage Two of easing restrictions and will allow for “simple and safe” indoor events and activities that can be done in less than two hours with social distancing, Chief Minister Michael Gunner announced on Thursday.
Restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars will reopen under those time restrictions, however alcohol must be consumed with food.
“So essentially a meal and a drink,” he said.
Mr Gunner said businesses looking to expand operations within the new eased restrictions must will need a COVID-19 management plan.
This will be in the shape of a checklist identifying how social distancing, hygiene and cleaning will be implemented on the premises and will be made available on May 5.
Mr Gunner said the Northern Territory would look to resume normal service within the state over time, all while keeping the borders firmly closed for the foreseeable future.
“It’s a business before borders plan. We can do all these things, before everyone else, because our borders are staying shut,” he said.
“Putting the Territory first, means opening the borders will happen last, dead last.”
Stage One easing from Friday
From noon on Friday, Stage One will begin, focusing on outdoor activity.
Playgrounds, pools, water parks and skate parks will reopen while outdoor training can resume.
Outdoor gatherings, including religious gatherings, outdoor weddings and funerals can also return with social distancing.
The territory hasn’t recorded a coronavirus case in over three weeks.
Gunner calls for patience amid uncharted territory
Mr Gunner said being the first region to make such drastic moves, it was inevitably going to be a difficult task.
“There will be some changes that seem too slow. Some changes that seem confusing or inconsistent,” he said.
“Our road to recovery won’t always go in a straight line.
“I ask you for your patience and understanding as we take these steps, as I have in the past.
“I don’t have an instruction manual here. I can’t look interstate. I can’t look overseas. I can’t look to history.
“I’ve got to make these tough calls as I see them, based on the expert advice.”
Gyms among Stage Two move
Alongside hospitality businesses, gyms will be able to return on May 15.
Other indoor exercise facilities and classes will recommence, such as spin classes and yoga, with social distancing.
Outdoor training for sports can return as long as physical contact is omitted.
Mr Gunner has moved ahead of the National Cabinet meeting Prime Minister Scott Morrison has routinely flagged in mid-May, which he says will be crucial to lifting some social and economic clamps that have hog-tied the nation.
“I let the National Cabinet know what my timeline was to inform their deliberations,” he said on Thursday.
“I have kept the Prime Minister informed, and I will attend National Cabinet again tomorrow.”
He thanked Mr Morrison for his “exceptional leadership” amid the pandemic.
“Australia is one of the safest countries in the world, the Territory is the safest place in Australia, in no small part due to his work and the work of the National Cabinet.”
Stage Three to arrive June 5
On June 5, the Northern Territory will enter Stage Three in its easing of restrictions.
It will see the restrictions on pubs and bars lifted, including the two-hour time limit.
Casino gaming areas will reopen alongside TABs.
Tattoo and piercing stores will open and all restrictions on beauty therapy and related services will be eased.
Team sports such as football and rugby will return. Any spectators must adhere to social distancing.
In events with more than 500 people gathering, permission from the Chief Health Officer will be needed.
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