4 Nov 2021

Bay of Islands businesses nervous with lockdowns to north and south

From Checkpoint, 5:19 pm on 4 November 2021

Northland tourism operators are desperately hoping the region's vaccine rates will boost enough for visitors to return this summer, with many businesses hanging on by a thread.

The northern-most part of the region remains in level 3 lockdown after two mystery cases popped up this week. A close contact of the pair tested positive on Thursday.

With lockdowns in the Far North and Auckland, and only 66 percent of people in Northland DHB fully vaccinated, a summer in the new traffic light system feels a long way off.

One Kerikeri local described the situation as being like the 'ham in a Covid sandwich'.

Nervousness around the 'boxed in' area is evident in businesses across the mid-north. Many Bay of Islands businesses rely on tourism, and while having international borders closed was one setback, being cut off from domestic visitors is another.

Ruth Stopforth bought the Marlin Court motel in Paihia last December when business was very busy. She said this year things are looking much quieter.

"It is quiet and I hear of a few businesses shutting down, which is sad. I just wish that people would hurry up and get vaccinated up here in Northland."

Stopforth is not the only one hoping things pick up. Paihia Dive owner Craig Johnston said he has had one dive trip booked over the past 10 weeks and they are running at 10 percent of their normal operation.

He is hopeful Aucklanders will be back north when the border opens, but with Northland's vaccination rates still lagging, he does not see that happening anytime soon.

"It's quite scary as a tourism operator to think that we won't get a summer season, because everybody in this area has been hanging on really to get to now, to get to the summer season, for survival.

"If we don't get a summer season up here you'll see businesses falling over here left, right and centre."

Johnston said he knows of three businesses that closed in the past week - a cafe and two retail stores.

"It's horrible to see other operators going through that. We're going through it as well but for them to make that tough decision, because their businesses are their babies, it's their life, so it is hard."

Getting vaccinations up is the only way he sees businesses getting the boost they need. He said people need to stop making it a political issue, as it is really about health.

But with misinformation spreading through social media, families like Colleen Dodd's are having a hard time getting through to those who have yet to get their shots.

She said her daughter and son-in-law have refused to be vaccinated.

"We're doubled-vaxxed and no matter how much we try and talk to them about it, they won't listen. They just read too much stuff on media on the wrong types of things."

Ruth Stopforth also blames online misinformation for the region's low vaccination rates.

"Perhaps people could stop getting all their information from Facebook and look at what's happening overseas, and get the whole picture."

The Ministry for Health announced today that 80 percent of Northlanders have had their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 66 percent have had the second.