WA government defends cautious rule easing

The limited reopening of WA's eateries will begin on May 18 with calls for more rules to be lifted.
The limited reopening of WA's eateries will begin on May 18 with calls for more rules to be lifted.

Western Australia is going further than any other state in relaxing coronavirus rules, the government says, amid a mixed reaction to the state's economic roadmap.

Locals will be encouraged to return to work and take regional holidays, the limit on group gatherings will be doubled to 20 people, and hospitality businesses will be allowed to serve diners under phase two of WA's recovery plan starting next Monday.

But with just one new case of coronavirus recorded in the past 12 days, the government has faced a backlash for not going further in unwinding restrictions.

Like restaurants and cafes, pubs will be allowed to reopen but a limit of 20 patrons will apply as well as the one person per four square metres rule, and a requirement for customers to buy a meal if they want to have a drink.

The Australian Hotels Association says it won't be feasible for many businesses, particularly larger venues, to reopen under the restrictions.

But Small Business Minister Paul Papalia says allowing pubs to open their doors is a step "far greater than any other state has taken".

"It gives them the option - it's not compulsory - so if venues believe they can't make a quid and it's not viable, then they won't have to open," he said on Monday.

"But it gives the opportunity for venues who might otherwise not have any reason for optimism ... to participate in this first phase. It gets some people back to work."

Premier Mark McGowan has flagged a further relaxation of rules under phase three, likely to start in mid-June.

"I realise that it has a degree of unfairness on pubs but they should not have to wait too much longer to have a different arrangement in place, assuming low rates of infection," the premier told 6PR radio.

Businesses that reopen will have to prepare COVID safety plans outlining how they will meet hygiene and physical distancing requirements.

Cafe owner Sarah Yates said her Como venue, Our Ruby Girl, would probably establish a time limit for diners and a set menu.

"No hospitality venue that's reopening is encouraging you guys to come and spend three hours - it's come, eat, drink, get out, respectfully," she said.

WA reported no new virus infections on Monday, leaving the state's tally at 552.

Seven cases remain active and there are four patients in hospital, one of them in intensive care.

Almost three weeks have passed since WA had a case that wasn't a returned traveller or a close contact of a confirmed case.

Australian Associated Press