Pubs and clubs call last drinks

GANNAWARRA shire's clubs and pubs have called last drinks, closing for an indefinite period of time to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Sporties Kerang manager Mat Chamberlain expressed his views on the new situation announced by the federal and Victorian governments yesterday morning.

"I think it's going to be diabolical for everybody and we're going to be closed pretty much immediately," Mr Chamberlain said.

Sporties directly employs 14 staff, with its leased bistro having around 11 of its own.

Of the 14 staff in the pub and gaming section, all are casual except four permanent part timers.

Mr Chamberlain said a number of the staff are unlikely to have any option but to seek unemployment assistance from the government given few businesses are likely to be employing anyone in the current climate.

Sporties could only open until 12noon yesterday, which was deemed not worthwhile given its 10am opening time.

"We don't know how long it will be closed for and we're basically governed by what the government tell us to do," Mr Chamberlain said.

He understands Sporties, which operates under a club licence, is not allowed to open at all, even to sell takeaway food.

He noted that under last week's federal government announcement, restricting indoor premises to allowing only one person per four square metres, numbers able to attend the club would be drastically slashed.

"Our numbers got reduced to a quarter, so we were only permitted to have 25 people in our bistro, 15 people in our dining room and 20 people in our bar," Mr Chamberlain said.

He pointed out that while the venue operators were able to implement restrictions on the overall numbers of people admitted to the various sections of the business, they couldn't control whether people stood sufficiently far apart to maintain social distancing requirements.

However, a number of tables and chairs had already been removed to help promote social distancing at the venue as much as possible.

The manager said the more severe restrictions on numbers allowed was already going to make trading challenging, prior to the announcement closure was required.

On Saturday, before the latest restrictions were introduced, Rob Fisher senior, owner of Kerang's Royal Hotel said the business had already had to reduce hours for casual staff.

That was prompted by a drop in business of at least 30 per cent in March.

The Royal Hotel employs three permanent full-time staff and 14 casuals.

Both Mr Chamberlain and Mr Fisher spoke of needing to pay fixed overheads regardless of whether or not the business is open.

"Most of us are having discussions with the landlords, but its early days," Mr Fisher said.

Mr Chamberlain said a board meeting will be held today and there will need to be negotiation with various parties, including landlords, in regard to reducing fixed costs.

"It's a very uncertain future for hospitality," he said.

While restaurants and cafes are restricted to serving takeaway food only, retail businesses appear able to continue trading for now.

Kerang Traders president and owner of the town's Betta Electrical, Rob Basile, explained that small businesses can still operate because generally they don't attract too many people at once, therefore not contravening the requirements of no more than one person per four square metres.

However, he has no certainty about the situation going forward.

"As far as (whether we) keep going, I guess we're reliant on the government's word to tell us whether to shut the shop," he said.

"We're not sure where we're going to head after tomorrow (and) if we get into a lockdown mode, it's going to hurt a lot of businesses," Mr Basile said.

He noted business is very tight and as the end of the month approaches, suppliers will be wanting to receive payments.

"If it (money) hasn't been coming in the door, it's going to be very hard to pay out the door," Mr Basile said.

As well as the pressure to pay suppliers, there are staff wages to consider.

While Betta Electrical has experienced a substantial downturn in business recently, it was busy yesterday morning as people purchased white goods such as upright freezers, with nobody certain of which businesses will remain open.