23 Mar 2022

Businesses disappointed with parts of government's Covid-19 roadmap

6:27 pm on 23 March 2022

Hospitality businesses are upset that the government's relaxation of Covid-19 health measures does not go far enough.

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Photo: RNZ / 123RF

However, the ending of vaccine mandates in the education sector is being praised by the secondary teachers' union, the PPTA.

Hospitality NZ said while the end to mandates for staff and vaccine passes for customers is welcome news for its sector, increasing the capacity cap to 200 for indoor settings will make little difference for larger venues.

"Why 200? It's nonsensical," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"The cap should be pinned to the capacity of the venue. Lifting it will not work for bars and other night venues. The seated model does not work for them, even with a higher cap."

What you need to know: Key changes for scanning, vaccine passes and mandates

It said these businesses have higher labour costs to police the existing public health measures, and have been among the worst affected by the two-year-long pandemic with no extra support from the government.

"Businesses are running out of patience."

It accused the government of haphazard planning, and was unhappy that some changes would not take effect until 4 April.

The criticism was echoed by Heart of the City which represents Auckland businesses.

It wanted a move away from the red traffic light setting (which will be retained until at least 4 April).

Without this, there would no major indoor events; bars and nightclubs would not operate properly, and workers would not return in great numbers to the CBD.

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Viv Beck Photo: Supplied / HOTC

Chief executive Viv Beck said: "Changes announced today will make a difference - but confirmation of a shift away from red would have made a major difference for planning and confidence amongst our businesses."

She is pushing for targeted wage subsidies to support some businesses.

However, the changes are being welcomed by the events sector.

Business Events Industry Aotearoa chief executive Lisa Hopkins said the reduction of restrictions is a further move in the right direction after the border reopening was announced last week.

She said confidence has been at an all-time low since attendance at indoor events was capped at 100 people last August.

Hopkins said organisers of up to 100 international conferences and events are waiting to confirm bookings for New Zealand.

"Event organisers in Australia are telling us they want to bring their client business back to New Zealand.

"The positive messages from the prime minister today will now drive a sense of surety as we work towards fewer restrictions," Hopkins said.

Relief teachers needed

PPTA Te Wehengarua president Melanie Webber said the union was not surprised that the vaccine mandate was being removed for the education sector.

She said the union had supported the mandate when it was introduced as a way of lifting vaccination rates as well as keeping children, the elderly and immuno-compromised as safe as possible from infection.

"The removal of them is a decision that has been made based on the best public health advice. However, this does not mean a return to any sense of normality at the moment."

Those teachers who chose not to get vaccinated can now return and there will be plenty of relief teaching positions as schools continue to be hit by Omicron, Webber said.

21205086 - male teacher with his back to the camera writing a mathematical formula on the blackboard in a classroom while teaching a class

Schools affected by Omicron are crying out for relief teachers, the PPTA says. Photo: 123RF

The Secondary Principals Association also believes removing the vaccine mandate for schools will increase the pool of available teachers.

But the association's president Vaughan Couillault said the mandate is ending just as young teachers are starting to go overseas for jobs.

Auckland Primary Principals Association president Wendy Kofoed told Checkpoint schools were waiting on more guidance as to whether they could continue enforcing their own mandates for vaccination, and it was something they'd have to be cautious about.

"The removal of the vaccinations that are sort of a next step for us in the process. But once again, principals and boards are going to need to have to do a fair bit of heavy lifting.

"The first step that we in schools have to do is look at our Covid-19 health and safety plan. And it's really important if we need to look at our individual communities to look at the vaccination rates, if we have Māori, Pasifika student populations that would be affected... The board would also look at whether they had immunocompromised students and that might be the case for some specialist schools."

She said they would need to be cautious about having their own mandates.

"We are a highly vaccinated workforce. So we'd need to think very carefully about how we manage unvaccinated staff in our schools and to look at what the issues might be for our students.

"It's likely we're going to have to look at a sort of a restorative process. Maybe looking at it as a bit of healing and moving forward. So it is going to be really challenging."

Education Minister and Covid-19 Reponse Minister Chris Hipkins told Checkpoint the measures have served their purpose in getting people vaccinated, even when low vaccination rates for pupils is taken into account.

He said the current risk profile was very different to when mandates were first introduced.

Employers wanting to implement mandates would have to justify it on public health grounds, he said.

Act unimpressed

Act leader David Seymour accused the prime minister of feeding "the fear factory" with her announcement.

"We've done the mahi, but we have to wait for visitors to arrive to get the treats. Waiting until 5 April for vaccine passes and mandates to go makes no sense. They should go immediately."

He also criticised the 200-seat capacity for indoor settings, which would provide little relief for hospitality venues.

"New Zealanders are fed up. It's time to move on. The traffic light system should go. We don't need small tweaks; we need real change."

National's Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop welcomed the announcement, saying the government had "finally caught up with reality", but said the end of vaccine passes called into question the relevance of the traffic light system.

"The government would be better to ditch the whole thing and create some simple rules around masks and perhaps venue limits, rather than persist with a complicated colour-code system that has never been used properly and that barely anyone understands," he said in a statement.

He said the government should also signal a timeline for abolishing the remaining mandates.

"After two tough years, it's time to get back to normality and start thinking positively about the future."

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