Ballarat diners and drinkers will again be able to eat and drink inside restaurants, cafes and pubs from the start of June, under an easing of coronavirus restrictions.
Such venues will be able to host up to 20 people in an enclosed space from June 1, Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Sunday.
That number will increase to 50 from June 22, and to 100 during the second half of July. Venues that have been open in recent weeks have only been able to serve takeaway.
The development comes after another 50,000 tests were conducted in the past week, with the state government given confidence by the low rates of community transmission.
But the premier stressed social distancing measures - which are being hashed out with industry - will have to be followed.
"It is a long and extensive set of rules," Mr Andrews told reporters on Sunday.
Victoria recorded another seven COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the state's total so far to 1561.Two cases are linked to existing outbreaks, three were found in hotel quarantine and the other two cases are being investigated.
Last month when Ballarat pubs were shut almost within 24 hours there was serious concern many would not survive.
But many more like the Mallow, Munster Arms, the Park, Freight Bar to name a few showed extraordinary agility and shifted swiftly to a takeaway model to at least be able to offer takeaway meals and keep some kitchen staff employed.
Another initiative form CUB was for punters to support pubs by buying a lay-buy pint with their local watering hole which would return two-fold when pubs reopen.
Many supporters will be happily anticipating that opportunity to collect on their loyalty.
Ballarat publican and Australian Hotels Association Victorian president David Canny told The Courier that the pathway forward was "welcome news".
"It's what we have been looking for," he said. "We very much welcome the announcement."
Mr Canny said while the industry awaited further details, businesses looked forward to reopening gradually in accordance with the restriction guidelines and social distancing measures.
While many pubs decided to close after stage three restrictions were announced, others moved to take away only.
Mr Canny said many businesses across Ballarat had used the lockdown to consider their business models and how their businesses could operate post opening.
"I think takeaway will be part of the business model for a lot of pubs going forward. They've invested into that avenue now and have had some success with it so I think they'll continue to do that," he said.
Mr Canny said that despite the difficulties pubs were facing, it was important that all pubs that wish to reopen are able to do so.
We hope that all pubs do reopen and there is no collateral damage with this. If there are some that don't, that would be devastating for us.David Canny
"We hope that all pubs do reopen and there is no collateral damage with this. If there are some that don't, that would be devastating for us."
Mr Canny has been a strong advocate for pubs in Ballarat and the flow-on benefits they bring to the wider community.
"For communities, it's not just the loss of the local watering hole. Local pubs and clubs buy, hire and spend locally," he told The Courier previously.
"Charities depend on local pubs and clubs for sponsorship and fundraising and there's a whole supply chain from farmers to drivers who rely on a thriving hotel industry.
The Victoria Tourism Industry Council welcomed the announcement of the reopening of the state's hospitality industry.
Victoria Tourism Industry Council Chief Executive Felicia Mariani said in a statement that while last week our state was behind the easing of restrictions planned in other states and territories, this morning we have moved to one of the most progressive states in this regard.
Victoria has moved more slowly than other states in allowing patrons back into eating and dining venues, with NSW outlets allowed to have 10 patrons since Friday.
But the premier said by waiting a little longer, Victorian restaurants will be able to open with more people, and may eventually be able to fully reopen sooner.
Mr Andrews urged patrons and venues to follow a "long and extensive set of rules" for the coming weeks.
Patrons will need to leave their name and contact details to enter a venue and keep 1.5 metres apart, while staff will have to be screened to ensure they don't have symptoms.
Rules will be finalised in consultation with the hospitality industry in the coming week.
Members of Victoria's public health team and Victoria Police will help ensure they are followed, but the premier expects most venues will abide by the protocols.
"They'll know it's in their interests - they won't be open, they'll be closed, if they don't follow these rules," he said.
Mr Andrews said earlier in the week that many businesses had told the government they couldn't be viable with only 10 patrons.
The premier said it would be up to them to decide whether they can reopen with 20.
"They're ultimate decisions that businesses have to make."
Read the full statement from the premier Daniel Andrews:
Earlier this week, we made a number of announcements on easing restrictions in Victoria. These decisions were informed by data - including the biggest testing blitz in the nation and one of the highest testing rates in the world.
At the same time, we asked Victorians to use common sense when it came to deciding what they could do - and who they could do it with.
We also said, that for the moment, there would be no changes to restrictions on cafes, restaurants and pubs while we undertook more testing.
After smashing through our goal of 50,000 tests in the last week, the results of this data has given us the confidence we need to plan to slowly start lifting some more restrictions.
Today, and informed by the advice of the Chief Health Officer, I can announce our cautious and careful next steps.
The continuing low numbers of community transmission and the high rates of testing give us confidence that cafes, restaurants, pubs and other hospitality businesses can begin planning for a phased re-opening from the beginning of June.
From 1 June - cafes, restaurants and pubs will be able to reopen their doors to serve meals to up to 20 customers at a time per enclosed space.
From 22 June - this could increase to up to 50 patrons.
During the second half of July, up to 100.
The timelines we're announcing today are reliant on Victorians continuing to get tested when they show even mild symptoms and on those tests continuing to show low numbers of positive cases around the state.
Before each of these dates, the Chief Health Officer will review the rates of community transmission in Victoria, confirm our ability to test, trace and respond to possible outbreaks and make sure we have an adequate safety net in the health system - before we take the steps outlined.
This industry has told us they need time to plan and prepare to protect the safety of their staff and customers. Making these announcements now will be giving them that time.
The hospitality industry is one of the pillars of the Victorian economy and has been among the hardest hit by this pandemic - re-opening the venues we all love is a critical piece of the puzzle in saving jobs and restoring our local communities.
We need to be really clear though: this is not a done deal. These timelines will depend on how we're tracking.
And just as we've used evidence to inform our decisions the whole way through this - these next steps will be no different.
If, in the coming weeks, we see a sudden upswing in community exposures from an unknown source - we may have to make the call to delay.
For information about coronavirus visit coronavirus.vic.gov.au or call 1800 675 398.
Similarly, if an initial opening led to a whole series of uncontrolled crowds or breaches -we'd look at that pretty seriously too.
A number of precautions will be put in place to guide these changes.
All venues will need to abide by existing physical distancing requirements of one person per four square metres. Tables will also need to be spaced at least 1.5 metres apart.
Venues will be required to take the contact details of every customer to assist in rapid contact tracing.
And there'll be other safety requirements too, including extra cleaning, staff health screening and temperature checks.
Further work will need to be done on how we manage shared areas like entrances and bathrooms, and will be done in consultation with the industry and unions and on the advice of our public health team.
Once in place, these changes will apply to standalone restaurants and cafes, as well as restaurants and bistros within a pub, hotel, bar, registered and licensed club, RSL or community club.
Restrictions on other spaces within these kinds of venues - including public bars and gaming areas - will remain in place throughout June, as will restrictions on food courts.
As we take these important steps, we must also continue to make a number of sacrifices, as the cumulative effect of easing too much too soon could undo all the hard work we have done together.
That means, for most Victorians the advice has not changed: if you can work from home - you must work from home.
I know many of us are missing seeing our colleagues and our work friends in-person.
Sharing lunch in the staff room. Morning tea for a birthday. And maybe a sneaky knock-off beer after work.
But right now, the science is very clearly telling us that we can't afford to take that risk.
We can't have millions of people moving across our state - particularly around the Melbourne CBD - touching elevator buttons or opening front doors.
In fact, we probably won't be able to return to work as we know it for some time.
As always, we're asking Victorians to take on their share of the responsibility in all this.
After all, it's up to each of this to make this work.
None of us want to be responsible for seeing the gains we have made together disappear.
And for every action or activity we can resume - there will be others that we just can't.
For now, and for the foreseeable future, this must be our new normal.
Lives and livelihoods are counting on it.