South Island businesses frustrated at lack of level change

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There has been some reprieve with an easing of restrictions for hospitality businesses, but after almost a month in Alert Level 2 many South Island businesses are still holding out for a level change.

By Samantha Gee for rnz.co.nz

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today New Zealand outside Auckland would remain in Level 2, but there will no longer be a cap on the number of people at hospitality businesses and venues.

But people will still need to be seated and separated at bars and restaurants and social gatherings would remain limited to 100 people.

"I know it's frustrating for communities such as those in the South Island that have not had a Covid case for a very long time. But it's important to remember that the reason there have not been cases is the careful and cautious approach we've taken and we don't want to risk unnecessary lockdowns," Ardern said.

Hospitality NZ Nelson branch president Ian Williams said it's been hard for cafes, restaurants and bars to break even under the current restrictions, with many simply bleeding money.

"The longer this goes on, obviously the more money we lose, so it's pretty devastating to to not have this lifted now and I'm not really sure that I can see the justification for not dropping us to Level 1.

"The thing with hospitality is none of our losses are recoverable, what business we lose today we are not going to gain tomorrow."

While people were being careful and taking precautions, he said it was hard work for staff, who were constantly in masks and having to enforce the rules.

He had spoken to a number of hospitality outlets, some he was unsure would survive much longer at Level 2 with no reprieve from the ongoing cost of rent, rates, insurance and other overheads.

"We are still knocking on the government's door day after day looking for a specific hospitality sector support from the government and that is not forthcoming. I think the other thing that we want to pursue probably is trying to get some commercial rates relief from local government."

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Leeann Watson said remaining in Level 2 was certainly a bit of a blow, but it wasn't unexpected.

"I do think it is a really stark reminder of just how challenging this Covid environment is. There's no doubt that businesses would have liked to have seen us move down to a lower level than 2, whatever that new level might look like.

"But I think all the signals from the government really over the last week have been that until we get our vaccination rates up, that is highly unlikely."

She said it remained challenging for the businesses who were unable to operate at full capacity.

"In a world where there's so much uncertainty and there's so much impact for businesses in these restricted environments, as long as they can see what the next step is that gives them the opportunity to actually plan ahead.

"They may not necessarily like it, but at least they know what they're planning towards and it gives them the ability to give their staff some certainty as well."

Queenstown Lakes District mayor Jim Boult said the government had a difficult job in trying to protect the nation.

"I do question our requirement to stay in Level 2 when we haven't seen a case of Covid in the South Island since May last year.

"It gets to the stage where business is suffering badly, people are losing jobs and I'd love to see some further freedoms."

He said there would come a point in time where we had to get on with life, which he thinks should happen sooner rather than later.