Coronavirus: NZ Cruise Association 'stunned' by Government's 'draconian' travel restrictions

The head of New Zealand's Cruise Association is "stunned" by the Government's "quite draconian" travel restriction announcement on Saturday.

Among a range of new border measures, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed cruise ships won't be allowed to enter New Zealand until June 30 at the earliest. There are six confirmed cases of the virus in New Zealand, but nearly 150,000 worldwide.

"We must go hard, and go early, and do everything we can to protect New Zealanders' health. That is exactly why, to tackle this global pandemic, Cabinet made far-reaching and unprecedented decisions today," she said.

Protecting the health of New Zealanders was of the utmost importance, she stressed.

Kevin O'Sullivan, the chief executive of the New Zealand Cruise Association, was shocked by the restrictions, which he said were "quite draconian" and came after no consultation. 

"We were stunned. We were expecting a major announcement today, but to have an announcement to that degree really indicates we needed to be involved in more consultation on how these measures are to be put into effect," he told Newshub after the announcement.

"We weren't consulted at all. The industry wasn't consulted. We were advised of it just about the same time the Prime Minister made the announcement."

He said the industry would now need to figure out the logistics "of what this means". 

"Where will the ships go, ships on route to New Zealand, will they have to turn back?

"Effective, the New Zealand cruise season has been terminated rather abruptly, two months earlier."

He said the "only upside" was that ships within New Zealand already would be allowed to finish their voyages. 

Already the tourism industry has been battered, as has the forestry and seafood industries.

Tourism is a major source of income for Aoteaora. For the year ending March 2019, total tourism expenditure was $40.9 billion, up 4 percent on the last year. Nearly 300,000 people are directly employed within the industry. The Government has announced an $11 million investment in Tourism New Zealand to diversify the market. 

Members of the Government have met with representatives from the tourism sector over the last few weeks to discuss with them how to go forward. A tourism advisory group was also being set up to allow for constant communication, reports RNZ.

An economic response, which will include the business continuity package, will be revealed on Tuesday. The Government has suggested that package will include targeted wage subsidies. 

Globally, cruise ships have become hotspots for the virus. Hundreds got infected on the Diamond Princess docked in Japan in February, including several Kiwis. Other ships around the world have been quarantined. 

Ardern said the Government would work with the aviation industry, which will be significantly impacted by the announcement that anyone entering New Zealand must self-isolate for 14 days.

Air New Zealand responded to the Prime Minister's announcement by saying: "Air New Zealand is reviewing the impact of the new measures announced this afternoon on its operations and will adjust its capacity accordingly.  We expect to provide an update on network changes over the next few days."

The company is offering fare flexibility to all those affected by Ardern's announcement. 

Customers with international flights affected by the restrictions due to depart up until March 31 are eligible to hold the value of their fare in credit for 12 months from the time of ticket purchase, receive a refund, or amend the date of their flight without change fees. The normal fare difference will apply.

Following the Prime Minister's press conference, senior Infometrics economist Brad Olsen tweeted that it was the right move, but a "gut punch to the economy".

"Business activity will experience a swift decline, and job losses will rise. Comprehensive fiscal stimulus needed ASAP. What can people do? Consider a roadie to somewhere you haven’t been in NZ to support tourism."

Former chief economist at ANZ Cameron Bagrie said the Government "better have a bazooka fiscal / govt support package to announce in the next day or so".

"The economic impact of this is massive. We are now talking a deep recession. A govt bazooka is needed to make it less deep. We are in a lose-lose situation. Just don't lose too big."

Among several other measures the Government has already announced is removing the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) stand-down period, and encouraging MSD and the IRD to work with businesses and employees on issues like provisional tax readjustments, late payment and filing fees, wage instalments plans and income support. It won't stop the upcoming minimum wage hike.