Opinion | No Financial Support? Fine, but Give Us the Tools We Need to Survive!

Let’s face it, financial support from the Government to help businesses stay in operation is gone, and it looks like it’s never coming back. It's obvious that one of the main reasons the COVID Protection Framework was shifted from Alert Levels to the Traffic Light System was because no financial support is required.

Fine, as devastating as that is and will be, particularly to the hospitality sector, we can come to terms with it. What the Government needs to do now is provide businesses with the right tools to enable them to function on their own, because, when it comes to Rapid Antigen Tests, the Government is now a vital part of business operations.

Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) are pivotal to keeping businesses afloat, but so far, they are only being promised to those workers considered “critical”, and while this covers those within the food production supply chain, it does not cover hospitality or retail venues.

Why not? When have the hospitality and foodservice sectors not been critical to the New Zealand economy and Kiwi workforce? That café owner is critical to the workers they employ, that restaurant is a critical buyer for that food producer or distributor.

The Government said it expects onshore stocks of RATs will reach 20 million by the end of February, however, Director of Health Works Group, Clair Conner noted that while the Government should receive the stock it needed to supply the country, private companies should also be able to secure tests too.

The rerouting of RATs into Government hands for distribution has essentially taken control away from owners over their own businesses. If hospitality workers had the opportunity to be quickly and regularly tested, it would make a huge difference to the livelihood of those in the industry.

Over the weekend, at least nine hospitality venues in Queenstown were forced to close by the Ministry of Health after visits by two customers instantly made at least 16 staff close contacts, requiring them to isolate.

“This approach of getting everyone to self-isolate by being somewhat near a positive case, will spark an inferno across the work and social life of NZ – at this rate, it’s going to be mayhem for hospitality, and this then affects the vibrancy of each town in NZ,” said CEO of Republic Hospitality Group, Blair Impey, who had seven of its eleven venues shut.

“The Ministry of Health didn’t care about who served the infected customers, or who was near them – they decided everyone should be declared a close contact. They showed no regard for our efforts to separate our tables and servers by sections, so in the event of close contact, only the server would be asked to isolate. Instead, they just asked the whole team and all customers to isolate.”

Impey has access to RATs but can’t use them as they are not currently considered valid by the Ministry of Health.

“We have RATs available for our team, so we can get them back to work sooner, however, we have been told by the Ministry only PCRs are recognised as valid, which can mean staff are waiting at home for 24,48, or even 72 hours for results.

“We should use the UK approach, where you can return to work if you’re negative just on a RAT test.”

No financial support is one thing, we knew it wouldn’t last forever, but to not give businesses the tools they need to support themselves is a major failing by this government and one that will have long-lasting effects.