Update: Return to mask wearing indoors

In response to a new locally acquired case of the UK variant of COVID-19 diagnosed in a hotel quarantine worker, the Victorian Government has announced additional restrictions that came into effect from 11:59pm on 3 February 2021. The updated Stay Safe Directions (Victoria) (No 13) are attached.

The new restrictions include a reduction in indoor private gatherings from 30 to 15. There is no change to the existing directions that apply to gatherings in public, including at restaurants or in function spaces.

Masks are now mandatory again in all indoor spaces. This includes all patrons and staff of retail and hospitality premises, physical recreation centres and in office buildings – except where a person is working in a private enclosed internal space. General exemptions continue to apply, i.e. removing masks while eating/drinking, undertaking strenuous exercise, or smoking.

Hospitality operators in particular are reminded that chefs and servers must wear masks indoors. Patrons who are not consuming food and drink are also required to wear masks. We note that it has previously been accepted practice that patrons who are seated for the purposes of partaking in food and drink can remove their masks. However, we note that patrons no longer have to be seated to consume food and drink, and as such monitoring standing patrons wearing masks will undoubtedly be more difficult for operators. The DHHS has not put forward any guidance on this point as yet.

We will provide further updates if and when any further information becomes available.

Extension of State of Emergency

The State Government has announced that it will move a bill to further amend the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (the Act) to allow the State of Emergency period to continue beyond March 2021 until 15 December 2021.

The State of Emergency period originally could operate only for a continuous period of six (6) months, and the State Government amended the Act on 8 September 2020 to extend the maximum period up to 12 months. The bill has been introduced to Parliament for debate this week and can be found attached to this email.

The purpose of the proposed bill is to allow the State Government to continue with hotel quarantine requirements for international return travellers. However as a by-product of the extension there will be some equivalent extensions to liquor and planning exemptions announced last year which could potentially be a significant boon for operators.

Planning Exemptions

The planning exemptions that were detailed in our update on 21 October 2020 will remain in effect until 12 months following the end of the State of Emergency period. If the State of Emergency does not conclude until 15 December 2021, then the exemptions will end on 15 December 2022.

We continue to note that for planning permit conditions, the exemptions do not apply to the conditions of any planning permits that were issued after 22 October 2020. This means that new premises, or premises that may have since varied their permissions, may not be able to rely on the exemptions to avoid the conditions on any applicable permits.

We note also that the permit exemptions do not address the provision of live music or entertainment in extended outdoor areas. Operators should continue to refer to existing permits and seek advice to confirm if they can provide live music or entertainment in extended outdoor areas.

VCGLR Temporary Licences

The VCGLR continue to have two (2) temporary licence types that are available in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are the takeaway and delivery licences, and the extended outdoor area licence.

These licences are effective for the following duration:

  • For the takeaway/delivery licence, until the end of the State of Emergency period; and
    For outdoor areas licences, until 30 June 2021.

The extension of the State of Emergency period results in the takeaway/delivery licences also being extended until, potentially, 15 December 2021.

The VCGLR has not announced if the outdoor area licences will be subject to any further extension to confirm with the extended planning exemptions. We will continue to monitor developments in this area.

The VCGLR has also re-introduced application fees for liquor licence applications, including for the above temporary licences under its COVID-19 policy.

We will continue to provide updates as they become available.

This update does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. It is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest and it is not intended to be comprehensive. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content.