On Sunday 6 September 2020 Premier Andrews announced a ‘Roadmap for Reopening’ for Metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria.
For the time being, Metropolitan Melbourne remains in Stage 4 lockdown with a curfew and other restrictions in place.
The Roadmap sets out four steps towards the reopening of the Victorian economy and society. (A copy of the Roadmap, one for ‘how we work’ and one for ‘how we live’, is available at: https://www.vic.gov.au/coronavirus-covid-19-restrictions-roadmaps)
The Premier confirmed that one aim of the Roadmap is to move Victoria towards ‘COVID normal’ (ie, achieving each of the four steps in the Roadmap) by the end of the year.
The Roadmap also aims to provide businesses and the community with an understanding of when and under what circumstances the Victorian Government will relax COVID-19 related restrictions. These steps will be undertaken in a gradual way to mitigate the prospect of a third wave of COVID-19 infections. In that light, the Roadmap represents a graduated form of risk management for the opening up of Victoria to a level commensurate with the number of COVID-19 infections.
Overview: Key Steps
We set out below a summary of the key steps for the reopening of Metropolitan Melbourne, which is currently under tight Stage 4 COVID-19 restrictions. Separate steps and criteria apply for regional Victoria (which is not currently under Stage 4 COVID-19 restrictions).
Each step has an indicative timeframe or date for expected implementation, subject to certain trigger points or numbers of COVID-19 infections occurring over set periods of time. As each step in the Roadmap is achieved, and as COVID-19 cases decrease, a range of cascading effects on industry, society and the economy will essentially allow for greater levels of activity and interaction.
Aside from the first, each step towards a ‘COVID normal’ Victoria has a specific date and is tied to and contingent upon specific case levels. If the COVID-19 case threshold and associated criteria are not satisfied, then the move from one step to the next will be deferred until such time as the relevant criteria are satisfied. As such, the nominated target dates for each step and the associated relaxation of restrictions will not be implemented unless and until the underlying COVID-19 case criteria are satisfied. The COVID-19 case criteria imply the possibility that, over the coming months, Victoria may move up and down between steps if COVID-19 case numbers increase or decrease at any time.
An overarching set of ‘COVID Safe Principles’ applies to the Roadmap, including:
- wearing a face mask;
- physical distancing; and
- good hand hygiene.
The first step in the Roadmap will start on next Sunday 13 September 2020. This first step will see some of the current Stage 4 restrictions eased – for example:
- the curfew will start at 9pm instead of 8pm;
- people who live on their own will be able to have one guest in their home; and
- exercise will be extended from one hour to two hours per day.
(This is in effect a slightly loosened form of Stage 4 restrictions.)
The first step is not subject to any COVID-19 case numbers or associated criteria.
The second step in the Roadmap will start on 28 September 2020 if there is an average daily COVID-19 case rate of 30 to 50 cases in Metropolitan Melbourne over the previous 14 days (and subject to public health advice on the source of transmission). Under the second step:
- the curfew will remain in force;
- the restrictions on leaving home, staying local and shopping will remain;
- some onsite education will occur (prep to grade 2 and VCE Years 10 to 12) in term 4; and
- more industries will be permitted to operate.
From 26 October 2020, if fewer than five COVID-19 cases occur each day (the statewide average over 14 days, and with fewer than five cases with unknown sources over the same period):
- the Stage 4 curfew will be removed;
- the existing Stage 4 restrictions on leaving home for four purposes will be removed;
- many industry sectors will move from being restricted to being ‘open’, subject to implementation of a COVIDSafe Plan and specific industry regulation;
- some visiting between households will be permitted (up to five people in a ‘household bubble’);
- retail will be able to reopen;
- public outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people will be permitted;
- schools and childcare will move towards onsite learning (based on public health advice) for year 3 to year 10;
- people are encouraged to work from home if they can; and
- exercise will be permitted beyond 5km from home with gathering and density limits.
From 23 November 2020, if zero COVID-19 cases occur over a 14 day period (statewide) then:
- public outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people will be permitted;
- up to 20 visitors will be permitted at home;
- hospitality will be permitted to have 20 people in one group indoors (with a cap of 50 patrons), with outdoor dining subject to a density quotient;
- all retail will be able to reopen;
- entertainment such as sporting events will be able to operate subject to specific density and patron caps; and
- interstate travel will be allowed without restrictions. (Interstate travel will be contingent upon cooperation between the states and territories and the removal of current travel bans.)
‘COVID normal’ will occur when there are no new cases for 28 days (statewide), no active cases and ‘no outbreaks of concern in other states and territories.’ No date is listed for this stage. ‘COVID normal’ is a level of restriction similar to that which was in place before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, save that COVIDSafe Plans must be implemented by business and people must remember to ‘stay safe’ (and practise safe habits such as handwashing).
For many businesses with operations in Victoria, the Roadmap confirms that restrictions will continue to significantly hinder their trading ability – for most, at least until 23 November 2020.
The continued restrictions will result in further challenges and continue to strain financial capacity to withstand those challenges.
The challenges ahead are different for each industry including retail, construction, hospitality and more. These challenges can give rise to different issues concerning employees, subcontractors, asset protection, downsizing, creditor enforcement and director liability.
If your business is facing financial uncertainly in the times ahead, please take steps now to best protect your position and limit your exposure and risk.
We have a dedicated team to assist with restructuring and turnaround advice across industry sectors including retail, construction, hospitality and more.
For further information or if you wish to meet with one of our lawyers, please contact the author or a member of our Restructuring, Turnaround & Insolvency team.