Coronavirus: Business leader complains 'brunch on the beach and a swim' won't help them

An Auckland business leader says the business community was "ignored" in Monday's roadmap to level 2 revealed by the Government. 

And in the South Island they're frustrated they're still at level 2, even with attendance caps on hospitality venues removed. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield on Monday said Auckland - where the majority of cases in the Delta variant outbreak have been found - would remain at alert level 3 for the foreseeable future, but pass through three new intermediary steps towards level 2 as vaccination rates went up. 

Each step would see more restrictions lifted, but aside from moving to step 1 on Wednesday, no firm dates were given. 

Michael Barnett of the Auckland Business Chamber told The AM Show on Tuesday it wasn't much of a roadmap, with some of the "destinations… made up". 

"If you have a look at phase one, I think business was absolutely ignored. What we got was brunch on the beach and a swim. And then phases two and three are vague promises - no dates and no conditions - under which we can move."

He said if the Government set criteria for moving through the steps - vaccination milestones or case numbers, for example - businesses could plan ahead accordingly.

"We've got none of that. Business, in fact, was ignored." 

Michael Barnett.
Michael Barnett. Photo credit: The AM Show

The new plan - reported internationally as being the end of New Zealand's wildly successful elimination strategy - echoes that taken by the UK earlier this year. The UK put firm dates on its phased reopening, but ended delaying its 'Freedom Day' by a month as Delta took hold. Since reopening in July, the UK has reported up to 200 deaths and 35,000 new cases a day. 

Step 2 will see retail stores reopen, with masks and distancing protocols in place, while step 3 will see close-contact services like hairdressers resume service. 

Barnett said the financial assistance on offer for businesses in lockdown wasn't enough, criticising the wage subsidy in particular.

"That doesn't help business. Business has to apply for it - so there's admin costs for business; they have to receive it, they have to pay the tax on it, they have to pay it out. It's for employees. And then they're expected to top it up, so there goes another cost. So the subsidy… we're grateful for it, but it's certainly not generous." 

Leeann Watson, chief executive of the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce, said Monday's changes to level 2 - including an abandoning of capacity limits for hospitality venues were "a bit challenging, a bit frustrating".

"Removing the caps will provide some additional relief, but what's really needed - which will make a significant difference - is real clarity from the Government on the future plans, the timing and what future restrictions and operating conditions will actually be. 

"That will enable businesses to plan ahead. We haven't yet got that. Yesterday we had a little bit more relief with that cap removed, but how long we're going to be in this situation for remains unknown."

Even with the caps removed, some venues will continue to be hamstrung by distancing and seating requirements, Watson said.

Westland District Mayor Bruce Smith, who last month said he was sick of hearing from health experts, told Newshub there was "no logical reason" why the South Island is still in level 2.

"The discussion needs to be around keeping our business community alive. Of course if COVID comes to the South Island - and I'm sure it will at some stage - react to it then. The suggestion was made today the reason there is no COVID-19 in the South Island was because of the Auckland lockdown is not a credible statement."

He also said "we all have to" learn to live with COVID-19, calling for a "rock-solid plan".