2 Mar 2021

Businesses outside Auckland struggling with level 3 lockdown

7:54 pm on 2 March 2021

While Auckland is having to go through a week in alert level 3, the rest of the country is still feeling the squeeze.

Gotham cafe owner Azhara Keenan

Wellington cafe owner Azhara Keenan says her business is suffering as office workers stay away from the city Photo: RNZ/ Harry Lock

The move to level 2 has resulted in events being cancelled, cafes, restaurants and bars down on takings, and more people choosing to work from home.

"A comment that came up today with my colleague," said Anniki, who works in Wellington's CBD, "was that the office is so quiet, where is everyone? So I think more people are working from home".

"Even the traffic this morning, I live in Petone, and the traffic is quite horrendous, but this morning it was slightly different, so I did wonder about that."

People changing their habits to fit in with the alert levels has been a constant feature of the past 12 months, with many businesses transitioning to more flexible working.

That is however impacting the businesses which rely on a busy central city.

Azhara Keenan runs Gotham Cafe in central Wellington, which relies on office workers.

She said it was difficult when there were not many people about.

"Yesterday was even below 50 percent, so it's pretty hard. We can't stay open to our set time, and we have to close earlier, because it's just too dead."

Events scrambling to find new date

In its 27-year history, the Newtown Festival - Wellington's vibrant, eclectic street party - has been neither cancelled nor postponed.

All that changed on Saturday, when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Auckland would be returning to alert level 3 and the rest of the country to level 2.

Scheduled for Sunday, the festival could technically still have gone ahead, if alert levels go back down on Saturday night as planned.

Martin Hanley and Anna Kemble-Welch, co-directors of Newtown Festival

Martin Hanley and Anna Kemble-Welch, co-directors of Newtown Festival Photo: RNZ/ Harry Lock

For festival director Martin Hanley, uncertainty was not an option.

"Putting people at risk, when there's all performers, store-holders, travelling from Auckland, through Auckland, all coming to Wellington, and then all going home to elsewhere in New Zealand, we could be a super spreader.

"It's our kaupapa to look after people."

Since the decision to postpone was made, it's been hectic - the last 12 months of planning had to be undone in the matter of a few hours with urgent phone calls made to sponsors, the council, volunteers, performers and stall holders.

Co-director Anna Kemble-Welch said all their time now was being spent rescheduling for their new date - 11 April.

"We're just really really happy that it can go ahead on another date. But we've been really busy trying to contact absolutely everybody who is involved, to make sure nobody turns up on Sunday saying 'oh, where is everyone?'."

Bic Runga performs at Newtown Festival in 2019

Bic Runga performs at Newtown Festival in 2019 Photo: SUPPLIED/ Newtown Festival

It is not the only event that has had to quickly change tack - over the hill from Wellington the Martinborough Fair has also been delayed until April.

In Taranaki, the Multi Ethnic Extravaganza - scheduled for Saturday - had no choice but to cancel; and in Hawke's Bay the national track and field champs - bringing together about 600 athletes, more than 100 officials and hundreds of spectators - has also been postponed.

Athletics NZ chief executive Peter Pfitzinger said it had been difficult to find a new date, but they did need to get one sorted.

"Hawke's Bay is a busy place, and we're not the only ones postponing events, so it is going to depend on the accommodation availability; to a degree, flight availability, but we think that's okay.

"The longer we postpone it, the worst that is going to be for the athletes, because they're ready now."

Hospitality again at the forefront of level 2 impact

Under level 2, bars and restaurants are limited to 100 customers who must be seated in separate groups and be served by a single waiter.

That has proved difficult for Lisa Lee, owner of the Point Cafe and Bar in the Catlins which is about as far away from level 3-Auckland as you can get.

Before the latest lockdown she was having one of her busiest summers ever as hordes of New Zealanders decided to discover this magic corner of Southland for the very first time.

She has not enough staff to comply with the level 2 requirement for table service only, and has had to close three quarters of the restaurant.

"In our restaurant, we have gone from 11 to 12 tables down to eight. That's loss of revenue, obviously.

"We can't do table service outside because we don't have the staff to be able to do it. So we've probably got another 10 to 12 tables outside as well."

Ajinkya Jagdale

Ajinkya Jagdale says many people have cancelled bookings at his New Plymouth restaurants Photo: SUPPLIED

In New Plymouth, Ajinkya Jagdale, the co-owner of a number of restaurants, said people were not even wanting to go out.

"Quite a few functions that we have booked on for later on in the week have either been cancelled or postponed.

"Even though we can have a hundred people in the place, and the functions are 30 people, 20 people, a lot of people still want to stay away from hospitality businesses."

Terry Parkes

Many rooms at Terry Parkes' Nice Hotel and Table Restaurant were cancelled following the alert level changes. Photo: SUPPLIED

New Plymouth's Nice Hotel and Table Restaurant owner Terry Parkes said they were being hit in the same way as Auckland operators.

"It folds down, we had all our rooms the following day cancelled. There was the new director of the art gallery - her pōwhiri was yesterday morning, well of course all the rooms were cancelled, there was nine rooms.

"We had a dinner after the pōwhiri here, that was cancelled."

There is relief on the way, in the form of the government's latest round of wage subsidy.

Many will be hoping it will not be needed for much longer.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs