Ballarat businesses greeted the news of a significant easing of restrictions from Friday with a mix of jubilation, confusion and distress.
While excitement bubbled at the prospect of Melburnians flocking to Ballarat and the regions for the long weekend and density restrictions easing, the changes will further restrict or close some businesses.
Previously some businesses had been allowed to continue operating at a restricted capacity if not all staff or patrons had been fully vaccinated, but that option will disappear from Friday as the rules between Melbourne and regional Victoria align.
"We are looking forward to welcoming our Melbourne friends back to town and the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors have greatly missed their input in to our city," said Commerce Ballarat chief Jodie Gillett.
"But it's disappointing that the option for a whole host of businesses to continue to open at restricted capacity if they are not all vaccinated, that disappears after Friday and considering that it was brought forward by four weeks from what they been working toward ... means some businesses will not be able to open on the weekend."
Hospitality, hair and beauty are among those hardest hit but Ms Gillett said it was likely many local businesses would be impacted. She said she knew of at least eight or nine businesses in Ballarat who had planned to operate at reduced capacity until their workforce was fully vaccinated.
"Most of our businesses, in particular hospitality, are struggling greatly with staff issues. They are finding it impossible to find staff - it's not just a skill shortage now it's actually a people shortage and if you start to take out people who are still waiting to get their second vaccination it makes it doubly difficult for them."
Ms Gillett said stress levels had been further raised on Sunday when Premier Daniel Andrews announced vaccine mandates would also come in to effect at non-essential retail stores from Friday. It was later clarified the vaccination mandate for non-essential retail stores would come in when Victoria hits 90 per cent, predicted to be around November 24, with shoppers and staff unable to attend unless fully vaccinated.
"Many of our businesses are in a situation where they are short staffed, they have had two years of stress and worry and now they are coming in to what will be a busier time, they've still got reduced capacity and lots of rules they need to work within ... we just need information to be clear, simple and right."
Ms Gillett urged customers to bear in mind the stress, staff shortages and potential inexperience of some employees when visiting local businesses and exercise patience and understanding.
"We are asking people to be patient and to be understanding of the rules that our businesses are working within - they are not rules they have made, they are rules that have been forced on them to help keep our community safe."
Committee for Ballarat chief Michael Poulton said despite the challenges there was a sense of optimism ahead as the region opens up.
"We've got to be mindful of respecting the safety requirements in place, it's up to everyone in Ballarat to submit their green tick.
"We ask for you patience and understanding if you're asked (to show your status), it's not the fault of the person who's asking the question. It's important we open up safely and sustainably and if we have to endure the challenges of showing a green tick, that's the least we can do and we've got far more chance of staying open now," he said.
City Oval Hotel owner Robert Gayton is one of those struggling with staff shortages.
With four of his most experienced hospitality staff unable to work because they are waiting for their second vaccine shots, Mr Gayton has turned to industry newcomers to help keep his business open.
With a slew of inexperienced new staff, combined with staff shortages, he's made a plea for hospitality diners and patrons to recognise the challenges hospitality venues face and be patient.
"Four of my main staff are booked in for their jabs in November so we've had to once again experience adversity and come up with a way to get around it.
"I've got Daisy, 15, who is normally a dishwasher but has graduated to working out the front, Lilly who started here last Monday and Iisayiah who came through an employment agency and only started two weeks ago," he said.
"Across the board there are going to be lots of young, inexperienced staff expected to step up to the plate."
While most customers have been understanding of the new rules around checking in and showing their vaccination status, Mr Gayton said there had been a few who fired up after being asked.
Daisy Blake, 15, has been a started washing dishes at the City Oval Hotel five months ago and was being trained up for food preparation, but recently started to work front of house to fill in the gaps of more experienced staff.
On Friday night the three staff members working front of house were all aged 20 or under.
"It was hard. Even I had to turn away someone, a man and his son, because he wasn't double-vaxxed, but you have to do what you have to do. I would have found it difficult if the man didn't take it well, but he was a really nice man. He even had a booking. It's hard to turn away customers like that, but I'd rather keep everyone in here safe.
"We can't work here if we're not (double-vaccinated). If the customers have to be double-vaccinated to come here, the workers should be too."
Lilly Petersen, 19, was also working with Daisy after starting her new job as a waitress and sometimes bar-tender on Monday having completed her six-hour responsible serving of alcohol certificate just hours before her first shift.
"Uni finished about a week ago and I thought I need to start making some money. All of the local businesses need help so I thought I should give it a go. My cousin recommended me so that's how I got a job here," she said.
She said Friday night's trade was tricky with one couple even forced to go home to get their vaccination certificates.
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"There was one couple who came in, who had been vaccinated, but they forgot to bring their certificates. They didn't know how to upload it to their phones. They did unfortunately have to go home and get their certificates before they could come in. They were very cooperative; they understood. It wasn't to bad."
Iisayiah Armstrong-Flatman, 20, worked behind the bar and found most customers were great.
"I am hoping people are respectful of the boundaries we have to follow and that they are patient with the new staff. Keep coming in, keep having drinks, come as much as you want."
As the experienced hand, Marita Gaytens, 59, has worked at the City Oval Hotel for nine months and been in hospitality more than 40 years.
""(The young kids) have been doing a brilliant job. They've stepped up to the plate. Any trouble, they come and ask me or Robert. We're there; we're the old school; we're there willing to help them. I have to say I'm in awe of them."
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