Omicron Update: Orange Light for Northland, But Concerns Remain

Hospitality and accommodation venues across Northland are welcoming Kiwis back to the region with the switch to the orange traffic light system at midnight. The whole country will move to the Red Light system if there is an outbreak of Omicron in the Community.

“The announcement of the move is great news and a welcome relief to businesses across the region who have been severely restricted till now,” said Hospitality NZ Chief Executive, Julie White.

“They’ve done it particularly hard as they missed the usual influx of visitors from Auckland because of the sealed border I’ve spoken today to our Northland Branch President, John (Kojak) Maurice, and while he’s delighted at the news, he points out businesses have missed the real high point of their season and need all the support they can get to help them recover something before winter.”

Marisa Bidois, CEO of the Restaurant Association, noted that the traffic light system at orange allows businesses the flexibility to be operational without restrictions on numbers where vaccine passes are being used.

“Of concern is the move to the red traffic light when Omicron reaches the community, particularly if we are only given 24 hours notice,” added Bidois.

“Any move to the red traffic light still presents restrictions on trading and the impact of this has been felt by our businesses who are recovering from two years of restricted trading.”

Another major concern for the industry is the fact there is no financial support offered to businesses under the Traffic Light Framework.

Over in Australia, business owners are struggling to help support staff with many employees needing to isolate at home because they have either caught Omicron or are a close contact of someone who has. The lack of government support has made the situation dire when it comes keeping staff employed and providing them with sufficient sick leave entitlements.

“We are awaiting feedback from Government on financial assistance for business that are closed down as a result of positive cases among their workforce or as a result of exposure via a customer,” continued Bidois.

“We know from the Omicron outbreak in other countries that the spread of this variant has caused a lot of uncertainty for businesses who are closing because of staff shortages as a result of exposure. We believe that businesses will need financial support to work through this new variant.”

Businesses across the ditch are also struggling to get hold of rapid antigen tests that are vital to help the containment of the virus.

Here, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has promised that rapid antigen tests will be freely available and will be used more widely with tens of millions of tests on order. There are currently 4.6 million tests in the country, and as she unveiled the Government's plans to tackle a potential outbreak of Omicron in the community, Ardern said testing for Covid-19 would continue to be free and that there would be a greater focus on rapid antigen testing.

Health experts have said rapid antigen tests will be a critical tool for managing Omicron in New Zealand and that the country could potentially need hundreds of thousands of tests to meet demand.