Friday, 16 Apr 2021

Covid 19 coronavirus: Return to Level 3 will hit business hard

Aucklanders are waking up this morning to Alert level 3, and the rest of the country level 2.

That means a large portion of businesses – hairdressers, gyms, cinemas, among others, will keep their doors shut and operations on hold as trading restrictions are re-implemented in the country’s most populous city.

Supermarkets, dairies, petrol stations, butchers and green grocers will remain open to shoppers as normal, while cafes, eateries and restaurants move to takeaways only.

The move back to Alert level 3 for Auckland-based businesses will no doubt come as a blow and will have knocks effects for those located in other regions of the country.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has confirmed that $500 million in wage subsidies will be available to businesses that need financial support.

The Auckland Chamber of Commerce says it is disappointed for the sectors that will be “adversely affected” by the upgrade in alert levels, but it says the public needs to do its part to keep Covid-19 out of the community.

“Government cannot be blamed for having to take this drastic action and nor be accused of failing to contain this outbreak. We have let the government and ourselves down. We were trusted to follow the rules and do what is right to keep us safe. Those rules were broken and now we all have to live with the consequences,” Michael Barnett, chief executive of the Auckland Chamber, said.

Earlier this week it was revealed that a family member of a confirmed positive Covid case linked to the Papatoetoe High School cluster had failed to follow Ministry of Health guideline and had attended work at KFC on multiple occasions.

Yesterday, another case in the South Auckland community was confirmed and it was found that the person had also failed to self-isolate, instead attending the Manukau Institute of Technology for three days – February 22, 25 and 26.

The person is a household contact of a student from Papatoetoe High School who had returned three negative tests and was asymptomatic.

Barnett said business and the community would be “bitterly disappointed” that Auckland had been plunged back into a Level 3 lockdown for seven days while the rest of New Zealand reverts to Level 2 as health authorities work to contain the latest community outbreak.

He described the upgrade in alert levels as a massive blow to New Zealand’s recovering economy.

“It is frustrating and a blow to recovery, but we will rally and accept the help put in place to save jobs. Businesses will be eligible for both the wage subsidy and the resurgence payments to mitigate some of the costs and liabilities from having to limit activities for the next week in such short order even though we all could see the warning signs,” he said.

“The most helpful thing business and business leaders can do for their people and families is to encourage and provide support to ensure they all comply with the rules of hand washing, social distancing, QR code scanning, and most importantly, if you are unwell, are identified as a close contact or contact, or have visited any of the locations identified as places of interest by the authorities, stay home, call the Healthline, follow the instructions on getting a test and remain at home in isolation until you are told you are clear.”

The sooner everyone followed the rules, the sooner the country, particularly Auckland, could get back on track and “reclaim our lives and livelihoods”, he said.

The Restaurant Association said the change in alert levels was a “major blow” for the hospitality industry that was already “struggling for survival”.

“This is another major blow for our industry who are already struggling to recover from the compounded impact of changes to alert levels and border closures. With borders closed, our revenues continue to suffer and these changes of alert levels are incredibly difficult to manage,” Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said.

“Sunday is a big day for hospo and our businesses will have stocked up on food for the days
ahead incurring wastage costs on top of significantly reduced revenues.

“Whilst its good to see that the wage subsidy has been confirmed this time, we cannot stress enough the urgent need for the government to respond with a tailored financial package for our industry.”

Hospitality NZ echoed Bidois’ concerns, saying businesses would be hit hard by the second lockdown in a month.

The lockdown announcement yesterday even would mean a wave of cancellations throughout the country and hospitality operators would have no doubt worked through the night and have held last minute crisis meetings, Julie White, head of Hospitality NZ, said

“Accommodation operators will have less than twelve hours to pivot how they adhere to the new settings, including cancelling buffet breakfasts and other functions.

“As the week goes on, all hospitality businesses will be hit hard, in Auckland they will have to close for the second time this month and the impact will ripple throughout New Zealand,” she said.

“The only saving grace for some is the wage subsidy and the business resurgence fund, however, for others, these support packages will barely scratch the surface when it comes to covering the immediate losses and cancellations to come.”

White said the yoyoing in and out of alert levels may leave some operators contemplating how they would be able to continue to operate.

“Our hospitality businesses are an essential part of our communities and will provide much of the employment that is needed for the recovery, but they can’t do that if they’re not here.

“Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders rely on hospitality businesses for their living — from hotel, café, bar, casino and restaurant staff through to cleaning contractors, bakeries and delivery drivers.”

Hospitality and tourism sectors collectively contribute $40 billion to the economy each year and employ more than 400,000 people.

More to come.

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