The weather might be heating up in Tasmania as Christmas approaches, but for Launceston's hospitality venues, their long winter continues.
The lockdown earlier this year brought many small businesses to their knees. As the state government began to ease restrictions in May, there was finally a light visible at the end of the tunnel.
But even today, strict rules are still in place for pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes and the vigilance of public officials remains high due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak in South Australia and the fact that Tasmania's borders are once again open to all interstate jurisdictions.
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It's now been 116 days since Tasmania recorded its last case of coronavirus, a returned traveller from Melbourne.
Sporties Hotel owner Nick Daking, a City of Launceston councillor, said the restriction on drinking while standing up inside a hospitality setting was laying waste to some small businesses.
"The damage has nearly been done," he said.
"The last week before Christmas is worth one whole month of winter trade [for Sporties]. It's big numbers."
"And that's what gets you through. Because January is generally a quieter month because everyone goes away.
"For every day that gets closer to Christmas [with restrictions still in place], it is crippling our industry."
So-called vertical drinking is only permitted in outdoor areas of licensed venues in Tasmania, while dancing is prohibited altogether because of the increased risk of close contact between people and contact tracing difficulties in the event that a COVID case is detected.
Meanwhile, New South Wales has lifted its dancing restriction and Queenslanders are allowed to stand up and drink both indoors and outdoors. Yesterday, NSW and Queensland each recorded two new coronavirus cases. All four were returned overseas travellers.
Wendy Robbins, who owns the Royal Oak on Brisbane Street, said she understood why restrictions on venues were in place and that she was "very grateful" that Tasmania had gone so long without a COVID case.
But for a place known for its live music, the Royal Oak is suffering as a result of the dancing ban.
"We would love to dance," Ms Robbins said. "And we would love not to tell everybody to sit down. That would be wonderful."
Ms Robbins said the one person per two square metres rule had caused the Oak's turnover to plummet.
"We have 40 per cent of turnover of what we had last year," she said. "And our staffing levels are up, of course, because we have to do more cleaning, telling people to sit down, manning the doors, just generally track and tracing."
For every day that gets closer to Christmas [with restrictions still in place], it is crippling our industry.- Nick Daking, Sporties Hotel owner
The Irish is another local watering hole synonymous with live music, and while licensee Ben McKenzie said his business hadn't been as hard hit by the pandemic as others, the dancing restriction was affecting the atmosphere in his venue and depriving musicians of an income.
"We normally do music seven days a week," he said. "And at the moment we're only doing it two days a week because of the restrictions."
"And we obviously feel for our musicians that we employ week in, week out and we'd like to see them back in the venue and business as normal again."
Premier Peter Gutwein said last week that Public Health director Mark Veitch was in the process of reviewing dancing and vertical drinking restrictions.
"Whilst it is frustrating for some, if Public Health makes the decision that that is an activity we should refrain from for a little longer, Public Health will have my support on that," he said.
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