Pubs prepare to open their doors on 'freedom day', but industry body leader urges caution

EXCITED: Publican Luke Tilse, pictured in July, said it was hard to predict how busy trade would be next week but he was eager to reopen. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
EXCITED: Publican Luke Tilse, pictured in July, said it was hard to predict how busy trade would be next week but he was eager to reopen. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Gladys Berejiklian said it wasn't meant to be a "freedom day", but the concept is being embraced with some pubs putting on live music and promotions on Monday.

Stay-at-home-orders will be lifted across the state from October 11 despite the steady daily case numbers and some council areas having vaccination rates well below 70 per cent.

The easing of restrictions, which has been somewhat fast-tracked under new Premier Dominic Perrottet, will be staggered from Monday (70 per cent of the state's population aged 16 and over vaccinated), at 80 per cent and December 1 for the unvaccinated.

Some hospitality venues have been taking bookings for weeks but preparations for reopening ramped up this week and many operators are planning to hit the ground running.

"Finally, it's time to head back to the pub, and we are coming back with a BANG! Join us on Monday 11th Oct to celebrate FREEDOM DAY with good vibes, delicious food and drinks, and [singer] Kylie Jane live from 5pm," The Beach Hotel said in an Instagram post this week.

The venue at Mereweather in northern NSW is owned by Andrew Lazarus. His Hamilton pub The Exchange is also hosting live music and has used "freedom day" as a marketing slogan, as have other venues.

Despite not usually trading on the day, the Young Street Hotel at Carrington, also in Northern NSW, will open on Monday and host live music from 4pm.

Owner Luke Tilse said "you've got to be in the game" and given the financial impact of this lockdown and the pandemic as a whole he wasn't missing a chance to bring in some revenue.

He is "nervous, anxious and hopeful" about reopening but believes society has to "get back to normal life".

"This is ridiculous. I've been all for the lockdowns for a certain period of time, but you've just got to accept the reality," he said.

"We can't go on like this."

Rolly de With at The Junction Hotel.

Rolly de With at The Junction Hotel.

While most in the industry are champing at the bit to resume trading, University of Newcastle laureate professor Nick Talley has expressed concern that the reopening could "lead to a huge surge" in cases if people don't maintain COVID-safe habits.

"I do worry that people will believe it's freedom day and they can just do more or less what they wish," he told ACM last week.

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The Australian Hotels Association's Newcastle-Hunter president Rolly de With said some pubs were fully booked for the opening fortnight, but it was "important for both hoteliers and patrons to understand that how we conduct ourselves over the next couple of weeks will determine our level of freedom moving forward".

"This is not the time to forgo the rules and let loose," he said. "This is part one of a staged process ... designed to ensure every member of the community is kept as safe as possible as we make the return to normal life."

Only the fully vaccinated are allowed in from Monday. Patrons will need proof of vaccination and must check-in. Patrons and staff must wear masks indoors except for when eating or drinking, which can only be done seated. Masks do not have to be worn in outdoor areas, where patrons can also stand, dance and sing.

"If we all do the right thing, we can return to life as we know it sooner rather than later," Mr de With said.

"The NSW government has been very clear about the rules around re-opening on Monday ... and our operators understand there will be significant fines for those who do not follow all aspects of the NSW Health Order.

"Staff will be thorough when checking for proof of people's COVID-19 vaccination status prior to entry and once inside social distancing and other regulations will apply."