Northland business owners are disappointed and angry the region is the only place in the country that will be left in red after December 30.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday afternoon the Covid-19 Protection Framework, commonly known as the traffic light system, would see multiple regions change settings at 11.59pm on December 30.
All areas in red – including Auckland – would move to orange, apart from Northland.
Ardern said Northland’s low vaccination rates meant more caution was needed.
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But the announcement was like a “kick in the balls” to tourism businesses already under huge financial pressure, Riki Kinnaird, the owner of Russell’s The Duke of Marlborough Hotel, said.
Tourism businesses in the Far North had already had a number of cancellations because of its red status and checkpoints run by police and iwi, he said.
“We’ve seen on social media and heard from our Auckland friends, ‘we’re not feeling the love’. They’re really apprehensive about the borders, and it’s just too hard and they’ve decided to go elsewhere.”
The businesses were between 30 per cent to 90 per cent down on their usual bookings for January, February and March – which was normally the busiest time in Northland, Kinnaird said.
The decision to leave Northland as the only region in red would simply drive more tourists away, especially Aucklanders who had put up with long lockdowns, he said.
“We’re the only place in New Zealand where you can’t dance at midnight on New Year’s Eve.”
Kinnaird, who has helped with a vaccination campaign as part of his role in Rugby For Life, said the decision is especially disappointing for those who have worked to promote the vaccine and businesses who got all their staff vaccinated.
Stephen Smith, chief executive of the Northland Chamber of Commerce, said the decision was made by a “woefully inept” Government.
Northlanders who were not vaccinated had chosen their path, as was their right, and time would not improve that, Smith said.
Being at red instead of orange made a huge difference for events and large hospitality businesses with a lot of staff, he said.
“Events – which are some of the big money earners – under red, they’re dead.”
While the rules would not make material differences to all businesses, Smith also believed the perception of the red zone would put tourists off visiting the area.
“People who are looking to visit the area, when they see red they think, ‘red means stop’.”
Smith said most Northland businesses were only surviving because owners were taking on more debt, and that was not sustainable.