20 September 2021

Alert Level Changes Bring Little Relief to Southland

Auckland’s alert level change and an increase in the number of people allowed to gather indoors will have little impact on Southland businesses, some owners say.

Ocean Chan’s Ming Garden Chinese Restaurant is one of the oldest in Te Anau, having opened more than 30 years ago, and has been suffering from a lack of international travellers.

Without Auckland visitors, his shop has been “pretty dead,” Chan said.

Chan has already had to close his other business, China City Restaurant – which was also more than 30 years old – because he had been unable to replace the staff he lost during the 2020 lockdown.

An increase in diner numbers, from 50 to 100, wasn’t going to make a difference when he could not get people in the door, he said.

He used to welcome more than 200 customers a day during season, now he was lucky if he made $1000 a week, Chan said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday that Auckland would move to alert level 3 at 11.59pm Tuesday for at least two weeks.

A Section 70 notice, or stay at home order, is in place in Waikato, north of Highway 2, after a man bailed to an address in Kaiaua/Whakatīwai infected three household members with Covid-19.

The rest of the country will remain in level 2 while Auckland is in level 3, but gatherings in level 2 will be amended to be a maximum of 100 people indoors.

Shakespeare House Bed and Breakfast owner and Fiordland Business Association chairman Nathan Benfell said the lift in gathering numbers would be more efficient for hospitality businesses who were still dealing with large overheads.

But he doubted Kiwis would be dining out or travelling soon.

“I still think New Zealanders are at alert,” he said.

Fewer South Islanders were travelling, he said, and Aucklanders, who were not yet allowed to travel, made up 20 per cent of the domestic market.

In the Catlins, Whistling Frog owners Lynn and Paul Bridson said the campers that usually filled their roads were far and few between.

While they’ve had some visitors from Southland using their self-contained units, lockdown came with a flood of groups postponing their bookings – and some who cancelled completely because of uncertainty over what the next few months could bring.

New bookings were accompanied by questions about cancellation policies, Lynn said.

“They don’t want to book too far out.”

Hospitality New Zealand Southland Branch president Graham Hawkes repeated his call for the South Island to move to alert level 1, saying obedient Southlanders were listening to Government messaging to stay home.

Level 2 rules were difficult for businesses and frustrating for staff – who were also dealing with customers being “less than kind” when they had to wait longer than usual for service, he said.

“Economy-wise, it’s a disaster.”

Southland Chamber of Commerce leaders would meet on Tuesday to decide the future of the Southland Business Excellence Awards scheduled for October 15.

Chief executive Sheree Carey said even if Southland moved to alert level 1 in time, she anticipated Delta level 1 would include new guidelines for gatherings as opposed to the unlimited numbers allowed last year.

Businesses were struggling to plan in the uncertain Delta environment, she said.

“You’ve got so many back-ups in place, for what-if scenarios – but there isn’t really any way around it,” Carey said, referencing the evolving nature of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Published: The Southland Times – 20 September 2021