Coronavirus: NZ restaurants call for Govt aid amid 'unprecedented' losses

The spread of COVID-19 is significantly impacting the livelihoods of hospitality business owners, with New Zealand's Restaurant Association calling on the Government for "immediate fiscal relief".

Some businesses are reporting losses of up to 60 percent, the Association says.

"We are fielding a number of calls from business owners in desperate situations, asking for advice as they face temporary closure," chief executive Marisa Bidois said in a statement.

The Association, which represents more than 2300 food and drink businesses across New Zealand, cites travel restrictions and widespread fear for the increasing lack of diners.

Popular Mt Eden yum-cha spot Hees Garden Seafood Restaurant has had to close for two weeks in response to the impact of the novel coronavirus. 

"People are afraid of coming out, they want to avoid contact with other people... a few family friends' restaurants... are planning to shut as they can't afford to pay salaries," Angela, the owner of Royal Oak's Royal City Dumpling & Noodle, told The Spinoff

The owner of Dominion Road's HKD Chinese Seafood Restaurant, Joseph Wong, also said business is significantly reduced as locals steer clear of public dining. He said his landlord has reduced the rent to help Wong manage the downturn. 

"Local diners [are] staying home for fear of contracting the virus," Bidois confirmed. 

"Add to this the strain from city centre infrastructure upgrades, environmental issues, including drought and other weather conditions, and the industry is facing a level of unprecedented challenges."

The Association estimates approximately $6 million is being lost by local hospitality businesses per week. If travel restrictions extend to other regions, it expects even greater losses.

The organisation says recent efforts to raise concerns with Ministers have been unsuccessful. 

"We are calling on the Government to set up and offer the hospitality industry immediate fiscal relief... thousands of jobs are at risk."

The hospitality industry is integral to New Zealand's economy, contributing more than $11 billion per year. The sector is also one of the country's largest employers.

Hospitality businesses impacted by COVID-19 can receive free emergency Restaurant Association membership at the time, providing access to a range of legal, payroll and marketing advice and support.

What has the Govt done to help local businesses so far?

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a multi-million-dollar boost to support businesses as the financial impact of COVID-19 becomes increasingly evident. 

"Cabinet agreed to an extra funding of $4 million for the programme, that will allow for extra advisors and give them more time on the ground supporting businesses," she said.

The Government is also considering tax breaks for businesses and support for workers forced to take leave amid the financial impacts of COVID-19.

A tax break could be on the cards, which would provide a holiday from the provisional tax businesses and contractors pay.

"We are working through with the IRD how that would work," Finance Minister Grant Robertson said on Monday. 

The Government is taking a sector-by-sector response to COVID-19.

It has already announced an $11 million fund for tourism and the Ministry of Social Development is offering assistance to workers in affected industries.

On Tuesday, relief came for crayfish exporters, who can now carry forward uncaught harvests after exports to China collapsed.