The AM Show hosts criticise Govt's move to reopen retail but exclude hospitality in Auckland, trust in their decisions waning - Ryan Bridge

Trust in the Government "to do anything that makes sense" is waning as Auckland's sticken hospitality sector faces more weeks of closed doors and no revenue.

Hospitality businesses are staring down the barrel of permanent closure as the region endures its eleventh week of lockdown, with wage subsidies and support payments offering little respite to struggling owners who are desperate to open their doors and welcome in customers. 

On Monday, the Government announced that Auckland will move to step two of the Government's 'roadmap', a three-stage plan to gradually guide the region out of lockdown restrictions, next Wednesday. Under step two, non-essential retail is allowed to reopen with masks and social distancing - however, hospitality is not included, with the Government offering little to no indication as to when trading will finally be able to resume.

Under step two of the phased reopening, Aucklanders will be allowed to browse library shelves, peruse art at museums, visit animals at the zoo and even host a backyard barbecue with two dozen, socially distanced friends - but going out to eat, even outdoors, is still verboten, despite the reduced risk of transmission in outdoor settings.

Following an emotionally charged interview with two prominent Auckland business owners, The AM Show host Ryan Bridge said it's evident Aucklanders are "stressed" and "mental health is up the bloody wazoo" in the Super City, the epicentre of the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19. The first case of the highly infectious Delta variant was detected on August 17 - 11 weeks ago at the time of publishing. Auckland has been in some form of lockdown ever since, despite the gradual easing of restrictions under step one of the Government's roadmap.

"For those of you outside of Auckland, that is the reality - people are stressed. Mental health is up the bloody wazoo… the trust and frankly the faith in this Government to do anything that makes sense at this point is about that big," Bridge said, gesturing a tiny gap with his fingers. 

Co-host and sports presenter Mark Richardson chipped in, saying he feels the lack of trust is mutual.

"I get the feeling that the Government doesn't trust [the hospitality sector]," he said.

"Here's people who are desperate to [reopen] and [reopen] properly just to get operating. They'll have people who will make sure [customers] will actually adhere to the rules. The Government's giving them absolutely no trust at all, it just wants to control everything."

Co-host and newsreader Amanda Gillies agreed, acknowledging that the ongoing lockdown is taking a heavy toll on Aucklanders' mental health.

"What mental toll is that taking on people and what [will the long-term impacts of that be? Watching Todd [Male] then and seeing a grown-up, a successful businessman - you can see that he's broken and the toll that that's taken on him. That's going to be the fallout of our lockdown. I don't know how much longer people can sustain this," she said.

Speaking to The AM Show on Tuesday morning, Krishna Botica, a restaurant owner and the president of the Auckland branch of the Restaurant Association, warned there will be "carnage" in the industry if the Government doesn't allow venues to open their doors soon - or at least allow customers to be served outdoors.

She said the sector would have "dearly loved" to have been included in step two of the Government's roadmap, but again, hospitality has "been left behind".

"[We're] 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… but they haven't done that for us," she said.

As the industry will not be back in action next week, Botica is now calling on the Government to provide a fixed date for hospitality's return, with vaccine certificates in play. Mid-November would be ideal, she says.

"It's really getting ridiculous now, we cannot sustain. We are going to see such carnage… everyone is suffering."

Route 66 owner Todd Male told The AM Show that after almost 12 weeks of gathering dust, he is "relieved" retailers will be able to reopen next Wednesday.

"It hasn't been easy… when [lockdown] started to drag on, it started to have an effect on me personally, I noticed it affecting some of my staff," he said. "Some tough conversations started happening with suppliers, who I couldn't pay… It's been a real tough one.

"On a personal level, I've had some stuff going on, which this lockdown has amplified. I've had my own challenges, but I've just gotta get up everyday and get that store back up and running."

It's almost certain hospitality businesses will be allowed to reopen before Christmas, with the city widely expected to shift away from the current alert level system and enter the Government's new COVID-19 Protection Framework towards the end of November or the start of December.

Even at the most restrictive level of the Government's new three-stage 'traffic light' framework, the Red setting, hospitality venues will be allowed to have customers dine on-site - as long as 1m physical distancing is observed.

But Botica says restaurants should be allowed to serve customers indoors as soon as vaccine certificates - a document certifying its holder is double-jabbed against COVID-19 - are available, rather than waiting until the new framework is adopted. Digital certificates are expected to become available to New Zealanders later this month. 

In the meantime, she says venues should be allowed to seat people outdoors - similar to what is already permitted under step one, which allows no more than 10 people from two households to socialise outdoors with masks and social distancing.