Why Did Vic's COVID Roadmap Get Quietly Updated To Exclude Entertainment Venues?

19 October 2021 | 12:59 pm | Joe Dolan

"This is about them opening the door just enough to get our hand out, and then slamming it shut.”

In the quiet hours of Monday morning, the Victorian Government’s COVID roadmap changed by just two words, but it caused a world of confusion, anger and disarray within the live entertainment community.

The first roadmap delivered promised “pubs, clubs and entertainment venues can open to 20 fully vaccinated people indoors and 50 outdoors,” from 11.59pm on 21 October. 

However, just moments later and with no public announcement, a subtle change was made and the plan was amended to read, “pubs and clubs can open to 20 fully vaccinated people indoors and 50 outdoors. Entertainment venues can open to 50 fully vaccinated people outdoors.”

The originally released roadmap versus the updated roadmap released hours later (below)

The result of this being that indoor entertainment venues, who had planned a number of comeback shows to celebrate reopening, are now left with no option but to cancel yet again and ostensibly await further instruction.

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To add more confusion to proceedings, the updated roadmap appeared only on premier Daniel Andrews’ website, whereas his official social media accounts made no such amendments - and in fact kept the original roadmaps online.

“Unless [premier Andrews] actually counters this… who do we trust here?” asks Kyran Wheatley - co-owner and operator of Melbourne venue Comedy Republic.

“We discovered this because our COVID Marshall updates our COVID-safe plan every time, every single time there is the slightest change in rules. She goes to the same place every time, the premiers website, and she found that late at night they had uploaded a different document with the word ‘entertainment’ quietly erased. And the premier’s tweets are still live, so who do we believe here?”

He continues, “The reason they announced the changes was explicit: they said, ‘we’re going to announce it early, to give business owners time to prepare and plan for the reopening.’ And so we took them at their word, and we did. We prepared and we planned.” 

Wheatley explains further, “we put on eight sold-out shows, we cancelled online shows, we booked 12 comedians. A staff member is flying back from Perth. Another staff member pulled forward their AstraZeneca second dose - from twelve weeks to 8 weeks against their own GP’s advice - because they knew they’d be in front of the public. We took action because of what the premier said. I cannot think of a better way to kick an industry while it’s down. To give them the opportunity, the crumb, of 20 people in a live space, and then say, ‘oh no, no. No crumb for you.’”

Wheatley and his fellow staff members are at just one of the many live entertainment venues who have had to abruptly change gears without warning. As the industry continues to teeter on a knife’s edge, independent operations like Comedy Republic and The Butterfly Club are struggling to come up with their own plans to move forward and stay afloat.

The Butterfly Club, as many other venues have have done alike, has had to turn to community support via a GoFundMe page to keep the lights on, and for Director Simone Pulga, this lack of clarity from the government is simply unacceptable.

“This kind of behaviour shows contempt towards some of Victoria’s most affected workers,” he says. “It is unnecessary, avoidable, and cruel.”

Comedian and organiser of monthly Collingwood live show Hairbrush Comedy Scout Boxall is equally perturbed about the state of things.

“This is fucked,” they say. “I can’t see how a seated entertainment venue with fully vaccinated staff and patrons presents more of a COVID risk than a pub. Way to pull the rug out from under Melbourne’s arts scene after 11 gruelling weeks of restrictions.” 

Boxall continues, “I was meant to have three gigs this Friday night. My heart’s going out to the organisers and bookers having to scramble after following the rules and trying to do everything right.” 

Comedy Republic

While these smaller venues continue to struggle, VicGov has allowed much larger operations such as the Melbourne Cup and concerts at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl to go ahead with much larger levels of patronage.

“I don’t think they have a plan,” Wheatley adds of the roadmap confusion. “I tell you what they do have a plan for - 10,000 people at the horses… they know whose headlining the Melbourne Cup, they ran at Everest!”

Wheatley also says that while the 20 person limit is a good start, it’s still not anywhere close to a point of financial viability - though that is far from the point of his anger. 

“This weekend wasn’t going to be profitable for us, but it wasn’t about that,” he explains. “It was about getting back on the path, and doing what we can. We weren’t going to make money - it’s got nothing to do with that. This is about them opening the door just enough to get our hand out, and then slamming it shut.”

Wheatley spoke on ABC radio with host Virginia Trioli this morning, after which point a spokesperson for the government told her, “A high-level document released on Sunday had incorrect wording around the indoor density limit for the entertainment industry, which was corrected in a matter of hours.” The statement continues, “we know this has been an extremely difficult time for the entertainment industry and apologise for any inconvenience this caused.”

“If this was a mistake, once it was made, I can’t believe that they’d turn it back,” Wheatley counters. “What is the real impact here? What is the health risk there? What is the difference between having a comedian onstage with 20 people at a bar, and having 20 people at a bar? What is the actual health outcome and how is it different?”

On the continual disregard and lack of inclusion in roadmap planning, Wheatley says, “We can cancel. It’s another two weeks and spirits will be stripped, but we can cancel. The thing that needs to change is the respect for the future and their attention to this industry. Whether they care or not out whether the lip service at press conferences about backing this industry and having them always say ‘our live music and entertainment - best in the country! Nations capitol!’ Well it won’t be if this is the respect they have for the industry.”