Covid-19: ‘crisis’ in Queenstown as staff isolation rules cause mass closures


Most businesses in Queenstown are set to close within a week as Covid-19 isolation rules cause ‘absolute carnage’ in the town.

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce Ruth Stokes said the town was facing a crisis as workers were forced into isolation after a handful of people tested positive for Covid-19.

The situation has left businesses paralyzed, with not enough staff to operate.

“Most of our businesses will be closed by the end of the week if this continues.

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Since Covid-19 was identified in Queenstown last week, 21 hospitality businesses have been declared places of interest, with staff classified as close contacts, meaning they are currently required to self-isolate for 10 days.

However, that will be reduced to seven days when the country moves into phase 2 at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

Ruth Stokes says the shortened isolation period will make little difference.

“They’re still closed,” she said.

“The only bright spot is that we’ve moved into phase two, which means phase three is just around the corner, so the end could be in sight.”

On Monday, 19 new cases of Covid-19 were announced in the Southern District Health Board region, which includes Queenstown, Dunedin, Gore and Invercargill, in addition to the 16 active cases already confirmed.

The figures include seven Moana Pasifika players self-isolating in a Queenstown hotel.

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Some schools have been forced to implement their Omicron plans quickly.

“The models show that these things are doubling every day. I think we’re on the right track for that to happen,” Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said.

Staffing shortages in the hospitality industry would likely spread to other organizations, such as schools and essential services like supermarkets, Boult said.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council intended to focus on essential businesses such as sewage and water, he said.

Seven Moana Pasifika players are in isolation in a Queenstown hotel after testing positive for Covid-19.

Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Seven Moana Pasifika players are in isolation in a Queenstown hotel after testing positive for Covid-19.

Republic Hospitality Group chief executive Blair Impey said he was forced to close nine of the group’s 11 bars, restaurants and venues in Queenstown over the weekend.

Visits by two clients have established at least 16 close contacts with staff. A member of staff had since tested positive for Covid-19.

There were not enough personnel available to work and no one was available to be hired as new crew.

The situation was worse than any lockdown as businesses still had fees to pay and no way to earn anything, he said.

Captains Restaurant in Queenstown is closed due to Covid-19.  It is not currently listed on the Ministry of Health's Places of Interest.

Debbie Jamieson / Stuff

Captains Restaurant in Queenstown is closed due to Covid-19. It is not currently listed on the Ministry of Health’s Places of Interest.

Impey said Phase 2 would not help the situation in Queenstown.

“It just means they come back a bit earlier, but Covid will be prevalent and we will close every time after the seven day period.

“The only way is to have access to rapid antigen tests. If you are positive, stay home, otherwise go on with your life,” he said.

Stokes said the situation was “absolute carnage”.

Members of the Queenstown Volunteer Fire Department who live on the station are self-isolating after one was named as a close contact of a colleague who contracted Covid-19.

Debbie Jamieson / Stuff

Members of the Queenstown Volunteer Fire Department who live on the station are self-isolating after one was named as a close contact of a colleague who contracted Covid-19.

Queenstown Fire Chief Terry O’Connell said six members of the fire service who lived at the station self-isolated after one member was deemed a close contact.

A colleague of a member tested positive for Covid-19 last week.

Members who lived in the station’s residential block made up a small but important part of the volunteer brigade, he said.

They all felt well and followed the rules of the Ministry of Health.

Fire engines would continue to respond normally, he said.

The owner of My Thai restaurant in Queenstown is considering closing permanently after being designated as a place of interest.

Debbie Jamieson / Stuff

The owner of My Thai restaurant in Queenstown is considering closing permanently after being designated as a place of interest.

Stokes said health authorities had issued inconsistent messages.

Several business owners had been told that their staff were casual contacts, but staff were getting alerts that they were close contacts.

“We’ve gotten to a point where the isolation rules are just crazy. There is no rhyme or reason for them.

The most useful thing health boards could do now would be to provide clear and consistent guidance, she said.

Hospitality New Zealand chief executive Julie White said the 10- and 14-day shutdown rule for community infections and their close contacts would wreak havoc on supply lines, work and social life.

“The closure will devastate this business owner (Republic Hospitality) and change the lives of workers, their friends and family.”

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