Kegs of beer are lying untouched across Wagga as anxiety around the high number of COVID cases has patrons steering clear of their regular watering holes.
Hopes of a summer rebound for lockdown-affected pubs and clubs in the Riverina have been dashed by the Omicron outbreak, with some venues only pulling in about half of their usual January numbers.
Publicans are hopeful their patrons will return when case numbers are brought under control, but the situation is a kick in the guts for an industry which has already been through hell and back since the start of the pandemic.
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Jayden Sullivan-Manns, manager of the Kooringal Hotel, said their business has dropped by 50 per cent over the past month.
"January is already usually the quietest month of the year but it has just died completely," he said.
"We're not seeing many families come into the bistro for meals ... and we're not seeing locals come in through the day.
"We'd probably usually make about 300 meals a day in January and we're struggling to get to 150 at the moment."
His views were echoed by William Corbett, the assistant manager of Tolland Hotel, who said business would usually be picking up around this time as residents arrive home from holidays and return to work.
"It's usually moderately busy but people just aren't coming out as much as they used to," he said.
"Everyone is a bit frightened I suppose and the thought of getting COVID or passing it on to someone is probably playing on their mind a bit.
"We're dealing with what we've got but there's not much else we can do. It's pretty rough for all pub businesses across Wagga really."
It is a poor start to the new year for the industry, which is already coming off what could prove to be a historically bad year.
Australian pubs and clubs lost over $1 billion in beer sales in 2020 and the latest figures from the Australian Tax Office suggest 2021 will prove an even worse year for the industry.
According to ATO figures, just over 900,000 litres of alcohol was served in beers sold over the counter between July and September last year, compared to nearly 2 million litres during the same period in 2019 - before the pandemic.
John Preston, chief executive of the Brewers Association of Australia, said the figures show the damage to pubs and club has worsened.
"On average beer sales are around 70 per cent of alcohol sales volumes in licensed premises and a drop of this severity has hit pubs and clubs incredibly hard," the chief executive said.
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