Let the children play, say long-closed centres with no reopening date

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Linda Lin runs two businesses but the pandemic hasn't been kind to one of them: her Crocs play centre in Ringwood that caters for up to 300 kids.

When open, "it's crazy with kids, you have to shout to be heard," she said.

Linda Lin in her Crocs play centre in Ringwood, closed for 203 of the past 220 days.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Since March, the centre has been silent, closed for 203 out of 220 days. When it reopened for a few weeks in June and July, almost no one came.

Ms Lin cancelled 93 children's parties when the pandemic started, at a centre she said was going strong before coronavirus arrived.

"Having to return all the deposits, it was horrible," she said.

In recent days, phones have started to ring again at the play centre.

"They're asking when we are opening," said Ms Lin, who can't tell them a thing.

Play centres fall into the same category as theatres, cinemas, amusement parks and casinos. Unlike restaurants and retail, which reopen on Wednesday, play centres don't know when they can return to work.

Ms Lin's other business is a childcare centre in Macleod. It's booming.

"I can have 80 or 100 kids in the childcare centre, just following the safety plan," said Ms Lin, who is desperate to open her Ringwood centre, even with limited numbers.

Brett Aldons, director of Crocs play centres.Credit:Chris Hopkins

"That's one point against them opening up," he said. "But kids in general don't get the infection, or, if they do, they get it mildly and aren't very infectious."

He said with the low levels of transmission in Victoria, "the risk would be incredibly low, especially if you have schools back".

"The risk would be the adults, not the children."

Most centres have cafes where parents congregate. Professor Esterman said the Victorian government would have done modelling to decide what could reopen safely and would have considered play centres too risky.

Brett Aldons is a director of Crocs, which has 23 centres nationally. All are open except its 12 in Melbourne.

He said adults could socially distance easily because centres were more than 1000 square metres. "We could have 20 parents easily socially distanced."

State Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said play centres should reopen if they had COVID-safe plans.

"Schools are back again, so play centres should also be able to operate with appropriate safeguards," he said.

Victorians had "done the hard work" to get infection numbers low, he said. "Thousands of businesses are hanging on by a thread."

A Department of Health and Human Services spokesman said play centres were closed because infection risks were higher in indoor spaces.

"There are many surfaces to touch at play centres, which could easily become contaminated and can be difficult to clean."

He said the department constantly considered how different businesses could reopen "in a safe, steady way" to slow the spread of coronavirus.

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