Covid-19: Northland business owners frustrated as red light remains

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Northland business owners are disappointed and angry that the region is the only place in the country that will remain in red after December 30.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday afternoon that the Covid-19 protection framework, commonly known as the traffic light system, would see several regions change settings at 11:59 p.m. on December 30.

All areas in red – including Auckland – would change to orange, with the exception of Northland.

Vaccine passes will continue to be an important part of Northland businesses' operations this summer.  (File photo)

Vaccine passes will continue to be an important part of Northland businesses’ operations this summer. (File photo)

Ardern said Northland’s low vaccination rates meant more caution was needed.

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But the announcement was like a “kick in the balls” for tourism businesses already under enormous financial pressure, said Riki Kinnaird, owner of The Duke of Marlborough hotel in Russell.

The Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell is one of the businesses affected by the decision to leave Northland Red.  (File photo)

Provided

The Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell is one of the businesses affected by the decision to leave Northland Red. (File photo)

Tourism businesses in the Far North have already suffered a number of cancellations due to their red status and checkpoints run by police and iwi, he said.

“We saw on social media and heard our Auckland friends say ‘we don’t feel love.’ They are really scared of borders, it’s just too hard and they decided to go somewhere else.

Businesses were down 30% to 90% from their usual bookings for January, February and March – which was normally the busiest time in Northland, Kinnaird said.

The decision to leave Northland as the only region in red would simply drive more tourists away, especially Aucklanders who have endured long periods of lockdown, he said.

“We’re the only place in New Zealand where you can’t dance at midnight on New Years Eve.”

Kinnaird, who contributed to a vaccination campaign as part of his role on Rugby For Life, said the move is particularly disappointing for those who have worked to promote the vaccine and the companies who have had all their staff vaccinated.

Stephen Smith, chief executive of the Northland Chamber of Commerce, said the decision was made by a “woefully inept” government.

Northerners who were not vaccinated had chosen their path, as was their right, and time would not improve that, Smith said.

Being in red instead of orange has made a huge difference for events and large hotel companies with a lot of staff, he said.

“The events – which are some of the big money – under the red, they’re dead. “

While the rules don’t make a material difference for all businesses, Smith also believed the perception of the red zone would deter tourists from visiting the area.

“People who are looking to visit the area, when they see red they think, ‘red means stop’.”

Smith said most businesses in Northland only survived because owners took on more debt, which was unsustainable.


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