Omicron outbreak: Auckland restaurants, cafes close as staff isolate

By Louise Ternouth of RNZ

Empty streets, closed signs decorating windows and locked gates are all signs of Omicron and the red traffic light setting in Tāmaki Makaurau. 

With cases reaching 3297 on Wednesday, close contacts are becoming an issue for Pici on Karangahape road. 

"On Tuesday an engineer came into the restaurant to check our pasta boiler and there's two staff members in there and then... he felt sick during the day and then tested positive and you know, all of a sudden there goes my head chef," said owner and chef Jonothan Thevenard. 

"My sous chef is also off as well, because he's got, you know he's feeling sick and then he's already been waiting four days for the PCR test."

They had no option but to close for lunch and try and stay open for dinner, with the small team left. 

Thevenard said the next few weeks were a huge gamble. 

"If the problem is bad now it's just gonna be exacerbated in two weeks time and I don't really see how we're going to continue trading."

On Tuesday, the Government announced a new COVID-19 support payment of $4000 plus $400 per full-time employee per fortnight capped at 50 full time employees or $24,000. 

But in order to be eligible, businesses need to show a 40 percent drop in revenue over seven days during the six weeks prior to February 15 - when the Government shifted to phase two. 

Owner of Ima Cuisine on Fort Street, Yael Shochat, was grappling with the dates that were chosen. 

"They want us to compare stage two Omicron to red light. Red light we were already terribly down so we're down in stage two, but not down 40 percent because we're already down 30 percent the week before."

Now they were having to shorten their days, closing when customers were scarce. 

They could not do work bubbles due to a small team and Shochat said it was frustrating a surge in cases might be the tipping point when they had made it this far. 

"The road behind us is so long and the road in front of us is really not that long, it's the last hurdle and we are all going to fall off in the last hurdle which is just heartbreaking, it's just such a pity, it's sad."

Prego restaurant shut on Tuesday with many staff off work due to COVID-19. Citizen Park was now closed two days a week and Little Creatures Brewing at Hobsonville Point had also shut their doors. 

Staring down a predicted surge in cases next month, Scochat said now was the time to support local. 

"Just think of the restaurants you love and you think are really worth saving and do what you can, buy their vouchers, get their takeaways and just help out."