Bar owner's shock at Ashley Bloomfield wanting bars closed for up to a month at COVID-19 alert level 2

A bar owner was shocked to learn that Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield wanted to keep bars closed for up to a month at COVID-19 alert level 2.

The Government has dumped a heap of background information related to COVID-19, and in a Cabinet paper review of level 3, the Director-General of Health's preference for keeping bars and clubs closed at level 2 is revealed.

"The Director-General's advice is to defer the opening of bars and clubs for up to four weeks, with a review by Cabinet after two."

If Dr Bloomfield's advice had been followed, bars could have been closed until June 11.

Hospitality NZ spokesperson Matt McLaughlin, who also owns central Wellington's Panhead outlet, was shocked to learn that bars could have been kept from opening up for up to a month while other businesses were allowed to open.

"It would have been catastrophic," he told Newshub.

"We were on the bones of our backside as it was and even now a lot of the industry is still fighting for survival, so any longer in lockdown could've been catastrophic for the industry and a lot of businesses could have gone bust."

The Government ended up keeping bars and clubs closed for a much shorter period when level 2 was introduced. But bookings were restricted to 10 people and customers had to be seated.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand would shift to level 2 on May 14 but bars and nightclubs primarily serving alcohol had to wait an extra week - opening up fully on May 21.

Dr Bloomfield said at the time the Ministry of Health had advised that bars be closed for two weeks and Cabinet settled on one week. The document shows Dr Bloomfield would like to have seen closures for longer.

Hospitality NZ spokesperson Matt McLaughlin, who also owns central Wellington's Panhead outlet.
Hospitality NZ spokesperson Matt McLaughlin, who also owns central Wellington's Panhead outlet. Photo credit: Newshub

McLaughlin said he was glad to be trading again.

"We're back open and trade has been okay but we know we're in a little honeymoon phase. We're able to live to fight another day which was always what we wanted."

He said it's the Government's responsibility to weigh-up the Ministry of Health's advice against the economic strain of keeping businesses closed.

"It's obvious that the Director-General is painting the worst-case scenario. The Government has then got to step in and make a decision for the whole of the country."

He said if there's another COVID-19 community outbreak and businesses have to go back into lockdown - bars and clubs probably won't make it.

"We don't want to go back into lockdown - that could be the worst thing that could happen. But if we're going to be shut down again, we probably won't come back."

The documents show Dr Bloomfield was wary about moving down alert levels.

He recommended a "transition to level 2 which would not take place all at once but should delay the riskiest activities to ensure we were able to monitor the effects of the first set of changes".

But he also admitted that staying in lockdown too long could erode the public's trust.

"The longer we remain in level 3 the weaker public support is likely to become, especially if there is no obvious increase in cases."

At the start of level 2 gatherings were restricted to 10 people. Following outcry from grieving families, funerals could apply to have 50 people. The overall gathering limit was increased to 100 people on May 29.

The documents reveal that officials proposed some adjustments to make the set of controls for the alert levels clearer for the public following a review.

"The public and businesses may struggle to reconcile why only ten people may attend a wedding in close proximity on a beach, but 100 people may attend a wedding at a conference centre, and an unlimited number may attend a wedding at a museum venue."

The economic fallout from COVID-19 is still being felt across the country.

The latest Treasury figures out on Friday show the total number of people receiving income support is now 196,700 - up 3800 on last week. 

The number of Jobseeker support recipients fell for a second week, caused by people transferring onto the COVID-19 Income Relief Payment which 6960 people are now receiving.

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