Queenstown Shut Down Signals Omicron “Inferno” 

queenstown dining

At least nine hospitality venues have been forced shut today by the Ministry of Health after visits by two customers instantly made at least 16 staff close contacts, requiring them to isolate.

Hospitality NZ CEO Julie White says the shutdown is the first of its kind, showing that the 10 and 14-day stand-down rule for community infections and their close contacts is about to ravage supply lines, work and social life.

“The shut down will devastate this business owner and change the lives of workers and their friends and families.”

One group which owns eleven popular venues, Republic Hospitality Group, had seven of the eleven shut last night and expects they will likely all have to shut by the end of today, as their staff are forced to isolate because two positive cases have been to their venues.

CEO of the group, Blair Impey, said the sudden shutdown came as a shock.

“Yesterday, we didn’t know there was Covid in Queenstown. On day one 16 staff were forced to isolate. Today, we have seven venues shut, and with this momentum all staff will be out, meaning all venues will be shut by some stage this weekend. That’s not on Covid – that’s the impact of the isolation and stand down rules,” he said.

Isolation was required of all staff who were in the venue with the positive customers (who visited multiple Republic venues) and the staff who were in contact with each other. One staff member out of 110 tested positive for Covid-19.

Blair said there was no subtlety in the designation of close contacts.

“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 a close contact, only the server would be asked to isolate. Instead, they just asked the whole team and all customers to isolate.”

“We did well today opening four venues with 20 staff out. I really feel for other hospitality operators with single venues. They will struggle to replace their whole teams. It’s not like we can hire new staff, because there is no one available due to the town’s labour shortages - which is due to no immigration.”

“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,” he said.

Blair said willingness to shut down organisations was not balanced by recognition of the costs.

“This is worse than any lockdown. We’ve got costs to pay for each venue, without the income. This stand-down period is a losing game for every hospitality venue once Covid takes hold further.”

“If they’re determined to shut us down to stamp Covid out, then it’s only fair they balance that with the wage subsidy and the resurgence payment,” he said.

Hospitality owners are carrying a burden for the good of public health, with major costs to bear and no financial support to cover this.”

Blair warned those who thought Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) were the way to avoid the stand-down impact, that “actually the tests were 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.”

“The Government must come to its senses and see the rapid ripple effect these rules have on communities and businesses. At the moment they have not indicated a light at the end of the tunnel. So it seems to me many hospitality operators will fold, as they will not be able to handle going through shutdowns for weeks on end without support. Without hospitality venues, towns become dreary. This is very sad for many communities, whom this can quickly happen to.”