A bus travels a deserted Victoria Street during lockdown. (Bradley White/Getty Images)
A bus travels a deserted Victoria Street during lockdown. (Bradley White/Getty Images)

The BulletinOctober 11, 2021

Business crunch as lockdown persists

A bus travels a deserted Victoria Street during lockdown. (Bradley White/Getty Images)
A bus travels a deserted Victoria Street during lockdown. (Bradley White/Getty Images)

Community cases increase as cabinet meets today, health and business experts call for clarity on the future of the Covid-19 response, Justin Giovannetti writes in The Bulletin.

Cases continue to trend up a week after the government dropped elimination. Auckland will enter its third month of lockdown this week and epidemiologists say cabinet is unlikely to further loosen restrictions today after case numbers continue to increase. With infections spilling south and possibly north of Auckland, epidemiologist Rod Jackson told Newstalk ZB that he was “freaking out in a major way” about possible spread in unvaccinated swaths of Northland.

Three more epidemiologists from the University of Otago, wrote over the weekend that the country’s strategic response to Covid-19 seems to be drifting and make the case for a move towards tight internal borders to contain the virus. New Zealand isn’t a federation like Australia so it isn’t clear whether the country could move to a patchwork of autonomous regions on a semi-permanent basis.

Auckland’s isolation as a region is having a real impact on business around the country. RNZ reports that retail groups are warning one-third of the country’s business might not survive another year as three regions are now in lockdown. One of the major concerns they voice is uncertainty over the future, with the prime minister resisting calls to set firm vaccination targets to guide business owners for when they should expect to reopen fully. The chief executive of Retail New Zealand called the government’s plan “economic carnage” as frustration drives more heated rhetoric. The Te Aroha Mineral Spas in rural Waikato went from boom year to ledger filled with cancellations, according to Stuff. While the iconic business is confident it will bounce back, it illustrates the struggle others are facing.

The South Island will be looking for clarity as well. While some have written to the Otago Daily Times calling for the South Island to be sealed off from the rest of the country, especially after events like Canterbury’s marquee A&P show were cancelled last week, businesses in places like Queenstown also need tourists to come back, according to the ODT. Half of businesses surveyed in Queenstown warn they won’t make it through the summer unless flights from Auckland can start soon. Businesses note that cancellations flood in after press conferences like the one in Wellington last week where director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield indicated that Auckland’s level three could last another two months.

After a chaotic week of changes to the Covid-19 response, the government now faces pressure to clear things up. First, cabinet will need to weigh the situations in Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Northland later today. Each of those are significant calls and there may be tension between public health advice and the politics of ongoing restrictions. RNZ reports that business will be looking for more clarity on vaccine certificates, which were introduced last week without firm details. Also seeking guidance, health experts told One News that a snap level four might become necessary this week in Auckland as cases look ready to take off.

According to Luke Malpass, writing for Stuff, the country is increasingly splitting into two camps: those who want to open up and those who are worried about the costs. The strain of that conflict became clear on the government last week. The prime minister left the capital unannounced on Thursday and her presence at a press conference that day was cancelled at the last minute. Despite touring vaccination sites, her office wouldn’t allow questions over the weekend despite the highest number of community cases detected in over a month. Many will be looking to the Beehive podium today for a return to a clear message.

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