The fact the South Island did not rate a mention in the Prime Minister’s Covid-19 alert level announcement on Monday has left business leaders and owners gobsmacked.
The media conference lasted for more than an hour, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield providing updates on Auckland’s alert level, vaccination rates and fielding questions.
There was no mention of the South Island, something South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wendy Smith was “staggered” by.
“We were waiting for a level 1 announcement and increased border restrictions, and it came to nothing,” Smith said.
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“We appreciate what is happening in Northland, Waikato and Northland but for the sake of the economy we had assumed there would be some announcements for the South Island and the rest of the country, and it didn’t come.”
Ardern announced Auckland would remain in alert level 3 for at least another week with Cabinet reviewing the settings on Monday.
Waikato and Northland would remain in level 3 until 11.59pm on Thursday, October 14 with a review next Wednesday.
Smith said the Chamber would recommend more informed information was provided and expected councils and organisations around the South Island would do the same.
“We all need to pull together and get them to wake up.”
Since the previous Covid-19 announcement from the Prime Minister, last Monday, and calls for the South Island to go to level 1, the Chamber had received no advice or recognition from the Government, she said.
Smith said it had become a matter of urgency for event organisers and businesses to know the number of patrons they would be allowed in the future.
Some business people were at breaking point with growing frustration at the lack of focus on the South Island and its Covid-free status, Smith said ‘’we’re going to see businesses go under and mental health problems’’.
NZ Hospitality South Canterbury branch president Kristy Phillips shared Smith’s frustration.
“Like every other industry we want plans and time frames in place for businesses and the welfare of staff,’’ Phillips said.
“It is difficult to have three to four contingency plans and no clarity of what it will look like going forward to the end of the year.
“We’re not getting leadership.”
Phillips said what business operators were telling her could not be put into print.
“At the moment businesses are just trying to open each day, but we’re lucky to be in South Canterbury. The local support has been amazing.”
Longtime Timaru publican Bob Mason, the proprietor of The Old Bank Café and Bar, Bullock Restaurant and Bar in Timaru, and the Pleasant Point Hotel, said he was disgusted the Prime Minister did not mention the South Island in her announcement.
He said last time he heard her speak on alert levels she said the rest of the country was in level 2 in support of Auckland.
“The audacity. We are just classified as the rest of New Zealand. We’re not taken into consideration.”
Mason said in his view it was all about political motivation as Auckland was where the votes were.
“It’s very frustrating, how long can she keep us like this?
“We won’t be shifting [levels] until Auckland goes to level 2. It’s going to affect business confidence. I’m thinking she [Ardern)] is being very naive.”
On Monday, the Geraldine Festival joined the growing list of events to be cancelled or postponed due to ongoing Covid restrictions, with organisers announcing the event, set down for November, has been postponed to next year.
Festival co-oordinator Janene Adams said that the decision to postpone until November 2022, would be a great disappointment to Geraldine, as the event is both a community celebration and a valuable economic contributor to the economy, businesses and stallholders around the region.
“In making this decision, the group felt that their focus must be on ensuring the safety of the Geraldine and wider South Island community,” Adams said.
“Although hard, the group believes it has been the right decision to make.
“We very much look forward to being able to run the festival again next year and appreciate the many messages of understanding and support that have already been received.”
While the main event will not go ahead, the committee is still planning for a vibrant, colourful and fun weekend in Geraldine on November 13 and 14.
“We’re looking forward to welcoming many of our usual visitors to the area over that same weekend, but it will be in a way that is safe for all,” Adams said.
“We look forward to making the best of the situation.”
Still not willing to cancel just yet, Geraldine Summer Fete organisers are still hoping for a change of alert levels so they can run their November 4 event.
Organiser Deanna Mackenzie said a final decision would be made on October 26.
If there is no change then it will be postponed to February 24, 2021, she said.