Undercover with the COVID squad


A popular eastern suburbs watering hole has become the latest venue to be fined for breaching COVID-19 regulations, as the state government's surveillance squad steps up efforts to stamp out the virus.

Watsons Bay Hotel management was yesterday served a $5000 fine for failing to enforce social distancing on Friday night, including allowing patrons to stand less than 1.5m apart.

Undercover COVID inspectors hit the eastern suburbs on Friday night to make sure venues were obeying legislation. Pictures: Flavio Brancaleone
Undercover COVID inspectors hit the eastern suburbs on Friday night to make sure venues were obeying legislation. Pictures: Flavio Brancaleone

The hotel also had all its gaming machines operational instead of having every second one turned off, as had been specified in the venue's own COVID safety plan.

Under the Public Health Act, repeat fines can result in a venue being ordered to close for a week.

The Sunday Telegraph ­accompanied two undercover Liquor and Gaming NSW ­inspectors on their patrols on Friday night.

It was 5.17pm when the officers visited Watsons Bay and discovered the breaches.

The inspectors, who are part of a team of more than 250 COVID compliance officers belonging to Liquor and Gaming NSW, NSW Fair Trading and SafeWork, notified the venue management of the breaches, before issuing the fine.

It is the 15th venue to have received a fine since enforcement was stepped up last month. Other venues to have received fines include the Golden Sheaf Hotel Double Bay, where police were called last week to disperse a crowd of 250 queuing outside.

When we visited the Sheaf on Friday, it was clear the venue had learned its lesson.

After signing in at 6.46pm, we were escorted to a table and told we must remain seated. We saw the hotel marshal swoop down onto a group of three males at a table near us after a friend from another table tried to join them.

The inspectors soon revealed themselves to venue management to let them know they were doing a good job.

At the next venue - also in Sydney's east - there were several large tables of young patrons sitting together. Under the regulations, there can be no more than 10 per table.

After being satisfied this venue was complying, the inspectors revealed themselves to the staff - only for a breach to occur during that talk.

A patron had walked over to chat to those seated at one of the larger tables, making the number in the group 11.

The venue manager immediately separated the tables, with the inspectors noting down the incident.

At Watsons Bay Hotel, patrons stood too close …
At Watsons Bay Hotel, patrons stood too close …


… and all gaming machines were turned on.
… and all gaming machines were turned on.

We arrived at the fourth venue shortly before 10pm to find a smattering of people, with a group of younger patrons playing pool.

While younger people have been blamed for failing to abide by social distancing rules, some venues are reporting a reluctance among older patrons to hand over personal details when signing in.

Watsons Bay Hotel partner Craig Laundy said venue staff were going "head to head" with patrons every night to adhere to social distancing, with the regulars being the ones who were most defiant. He said the hotel had "dropped the ball" and staff had been read the riot act.

"We'll cop the fine. It's a learning curve," he said.

Liquor and Gaming NSW compliance director Dimitri Argeres said there was now a zero tolerance approach to COVID breaches.

Customer Services Minister Victor Dominello said Sydneysiders on the whole had lifted their game but some still failed to listen.

Originally published as Undercover with the COVID squad