Coronavirus: Hospitality industry warns of looming 'iceberg' and 'carnage'

An Auckland restaurant owner is warning there will be "carnage" in the hospitality industry if the Government doesn't allow venues to open their doors soon, or at least let them host outdoor dining. 

The Government on Monday said it's likely that next week the city will be able to move to level 3, step 2 - while this allows non-essential retail to open with distancing and masks, hospitality isn't included. 

Aucklanders will be allowed to browse library shelves, peruse art at museums, check out the monkeys at the zoo and even host a backyard BBQ with two dozen friends, but sitting down for a feed you've paid someone else to prepare - even outdoors - is still verboten. 

"We would have dearly loved to have been part of this level 3, step 2," Restaurant Association Auckland president Krishna Botica told The AM Show on Tuesday.

"Absolutely delighted for the retailers - they desperately need to get some customers through the door and get some sales going… [but] we've been left behind again. We would have hoped the Government would have slightly tweaked that announcement yesterday because they did for outdoor gym groups so they could get functioning - at the last minute they changed that, but they haven't done that for us."

It's almost certain they will be allowed to open before Christmas, with the city widely expected to move out of the alert level system and onto the traffic light regime around the end of November or start of December. Even at the most restrictive level of the traffic light framework - red - hospitality can have customers dining on-site, as long as there's room to observe 1m distancing. 

But that hardly leaves enough time for operators to earn enough to cover the post-Christmas lull.

"If we get to red say… at the beginning of December, that leaves us three weeks only - three real weeks - of trading to try and make up for all of January," said Botica. "January is an absolute iceberg for hospitality in Auckland."

And with the hard border around Auckland also likely to be gone by then, there's nothing stopping the city's residents from spending their money elsewhere. 

"The Prime Minister has assured Aucklanders will be able to get out of the region by Christmas with vaccine certificates, so with that in play we only have a three-week run-up. Basically every restaurateur that I've spoken to said it's not enough to survive January."

Digital vaccine certificates are expected to be available later this month. If a venue uses them, they can fit in up to 100 people, provided 1m distancing can be maintained. 

Botica says restaurants should be allowed to seat customers indoors as soon as the certificates are available, rather than waiting until vaccination targets are met and the traffic light system adopted. And in the meantime, she wants venues to be allowed to seat people outdoors, where the risk of infection is much lower. 

"It's really getting ridiculous now. We cannot sustain. We are going to see such carnage. I don't think people realise how bad it is out there. Everybody is suffering."