A local publican and the hospitality industry say the ongoing Darwin mask mandate is killing business and are calling on the Chief Minister to rescind the mandate while there are no active cases in the Greater Darwin area.
Hospitality NT CEO Alex Bruce said while the Gunner Government continues to be “trigger happy with the masks”, it presents the optics of Darwin being a risky place, which could have wider detrimental effects on tourism, while already hurting business.
Mr Bruce said hospitality businesses are forecasting at least a 30 per cent drop in sales this week as people decide to stay home rather than venture to the pub with a mask.
“In the late-night sector, they just don’t want to do it on a weekend when there’s masks,” he told Mix 104.9.
“People booking in accommodation around Darwin to come in for the weekend, we faced cancellations there in that restaurant and cafe space, it’s a 30 per cent drop in sales.
“A lot of them, their profit margins operate below that level. They’re still paying their rent, they’re still paying all their bills, they’re still paying their staff because they do want to keep that connection and not lose those workers and not get any back.”
Local publican Jason Hanna, who owns six hospitality venues in Darwin, took to Facebook on Thursday to vent his frustrations with the continued mask mandate while there are no cases in Darwin.
“I’m all for doing our part when it’s an obvious localized case, in fact that’s when most businesses would close but these latest mask mandate(s) just don’t feel right or necessary,” he said.
“At least when we are in lockdown the optics are that it’s not business as usual. Right now people see these businesses open, see staff working and think that everything is ok when, fact is, we are [hemorrhaging] money every day.”
Mr Hanna added that all businesses were hurting from the masks mandate.
“While many will say ‘don’t be selfish, it’s only a minor inconvenience, do you part’, the inconvenient truth is when masks are up, most businesses, not just in our food and beverage industry, lose money daily, bleed it slowly like a wound that just won’t heal,” he said.
“The government either doesn’t know or doesn’t care because at face value, businesses are open and not closed, staff are working and not stood down, venues look full enough (whatever metric that is) and it’s only a week.
“People just chose not to come out while having to wear a mask and our figures prove it.”
Double vaccination figures continue to grow in Darwin
Mr Bruce said while industry acknowledge that COVID can close businesses down or force a lockout environment at any time, the Gunner Government should revert to the lower risk level once it’s safe and “the sooner the better in high-vaxxed communities” such as Darwin.
He added that a lot of families are clearly choosing to just stay at home in the aircon or put the kids in the backyard pool than go out.
“The [message] is that ‘COVID’s here, COVID’s here, community be scared, be afraid, wear masks’ – that is a visible sign that things aren’t where they need to be. And so there are people that are reluctant to move out and about in society as well,” he said.
Mr Bruce added that venues in Queensland are taking Christmas bookings because their borders are open to double-vaxxed Australians, something that should be happening here.
“Why don’t we pull up our socks? We’ve done a phenomenal effort. Territorians deserve to have the same equity come Christmas time as others,” he said.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner said he would revisit lifting the Darwin mask mandate over the weekend, but did not provide a firm time frame and indicated it could go longer.