17 February 2022

Hospitality boss ‘frustrated’ with coronavirus messaging

The Invercargill Licensing Trust, which is losing up to 40 per cent revenue in its bars and restaurants, has expressed frustration with the Southern District Health Board’s messaging around the Covid-19 pandemic.

This week, at a time when many hospitality venues are struggling to stay afloat, the health board has asked Southerners to be aware that bars, restaurants and parties are considered “high risk settings”.

Licensing trust chief executive Chris Ramsay said the hospitality sector had been negatively impacted by the Covid red light setting, and the health board’s comments did nothing to assist the industry and the wellbeing of its staff.

The trust had followed every rule and regulation that the Government had put in place for bars and restaurants, he said.

“Our sites are vaccination only, all of our staff wear medical grade masks, our cleanliness and sanitising is exactly where it should be. So it is a bit frustrating reading that [from the health board].”

The trust’s bars and restaurants and accommodation providers had been “incredibly quiet” during the red traffic light setting, which, among other requirements, limits groups to 100.

The trust’s revenue was down 30-40 per cent in most of its bars and restaurants, with its Ascot Park Hotel alone losing more than $500,000 during the red light setting due to cancelled function and accommodation bookings.

The public’s behaviour had changed, with Ramsay saying it appeared many were scared to go out to bars and restaurants.

“In many ways, the sooner this virus washes through, as cavalier as this sounds, the better it will be for everyone to get back to some sense of normality. And we are seeing that overseas.”

Dr Susan Jack, the health board’s medical officer of health, said the hospitality sector had been fantastic in its proactive public health response to Covid-19.

The sector and its staff had worked hard to meet all the requirements, which was appreciated, and it would slow the spread of Omicron, she said.

However, there remained a risk of Covid-19 transmission in closed spaces over a prolonged period of time, especially if people were eating and drinking in places like bars or restaurants, she said.

“As a community we are all in this together, from our very healthy to our most vulnerable. For some, this may be the time to hunker down to protect themselves and their whānau.”

Other industries also faced tough times as Omicron arrived in the south, with the Chamber of Commerce calling on the Government to treat every business as a critical business.

Businesses deemed as a critical service can allow their workers to skip Covid-19 isolation requirements if they return daily negative rapid antigen tests.

But Southland chamber chief executive Sheree Carey said the Government should allow all businesses to have rapid antigen tests for workers, not just those deemed as critical.

Without the daily rapid antigen tests, businesses would have to close and some would close for good, she said.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said all businesses were important to the New Zealand economy but there was a global shortage of rapid antigen tests.

“That is why the close contact exemption scheme is targeted at those businesses that keep the country running to ensure the wellbeing of New Zealanders. When supply constraints ease, we are looking to make rapid antigen tests more widely available.”

Source stuff.co.nz – February 16 2022

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