A Northland hospitality leader has criticised the government for singling bars out from restaurants and cafes that can reopen with certain restrictions from Thursday when the country moves down to alert level 2.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced that restaurants, cafes, retail outlets, malls, cinemas, playgrounds and gyms can reopen from this Thursday and schools from Monday next week.
However, bars will have to wait until May 21 as they posed the most risk.
Ardern cited the example of South Korea which opened bars but them closed them after a further outbreak of Covid-19.
John Maurice, owner of Kaikohe's Bank Bar and Northland chairman of Hospitality NZ, questioned why bars were being singled out as they were similar to restaurants and cafes.
"We've waited nearly seven weeks and are being asked to wait for another 10 days. What's the difference between people sitting in a bar and those in a restaurant? They still have to practice the same distancing.
"We've wait for so long and it just doesn't cut the mustard with me. Rest homes and hospitals have had the most positive cases to date, as well as people travelling, sports can resume. We as bar owners are hurting," he said.
Operations manager at McMorrissey's Irish Pub and Eatery in central Whangārei, Amitesh Chandra, said bar owners have no option but to follow rules set by the government otherwise they wouldn't be able to trade.
"We can still trade for takeaways from Thursday but food is not our major revenue earner.
"Because of social distancing, we can only fit 100 people with seating for between 70 and 80 due to social distancing when we can reopen from May 21."
Another setback for bars, he said, was their inability to accept group bookings.
"Normally, our group bookings are 40-plus but now we can't do that but at least we can start from somewhere and keep people employed and the business afloat," he said.
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Northland Mayoral Forum chairman Jason Smith welcomed the staged lifting of level 3 lockdown, saying the most important thing was that "wheels will be turning again" as far as the local economy was concerned.
"The staged approach is interesting, especially of having a maximum of 10 people at gatherings. Northlanders are very social, they have large families and so that's going to be a challenge.
"Having said that, Northlanders have worked very hard during level 3 and 4 lockdown and going back down to level 2 will ease some of the extra restrictions. We look forward to Northland re-emerging and blinking back into the light," the Kaipara mayor said.
Mahitahi Hauora chief executive Phillip Balmer said GP consultation in Northland since March 16 dropped by 40 per cent for non-Maori patients and 10 per cent for Maori patients.
Just as Northlanders have gone shopping to feed their families so they must follow suit when it came to healthcare, he said.
"We know that patients needs have not gone away and encourage patients to seek care as you are now at more risk from not receiving care."
Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association president and Hora Hora Primary School principal Pat Newman said he was relieved that schools would fully reopen next week.
"I think myself, my staff and many many parents are very happy that the day has come that we're going to finally open again. It takes away a lot of indecision. I know our parents have done a phenomenal job and I know my teachers have. To get back another step towards normality will be welcomed by everybody."
Schools have been partially open - mainly for children of workers - since level 3 with health and safety requirements including a limit of 10 children per bubble. It has meant some schools have remained closed, and some have had very low numbers of children.
Newman said under level 2, social distancing is not required at school so all children may return next week.
"It's accepted that we cannot have social distancing within the school context, we'll try explain to children that they don't breathe over each other. But it's accepted it's not possible to have the 1m, 2m thing. It's accepted within the school boundaries, with the children of the school, that the groups of 100 rule does not apply as they do for sports events and things like that."
Newman said he expected some parents would still be hesitant sending their kids to school, which he understood, but imagined most schools would cease online learning next week.
The Northland District Health Board has warned of a spike in respiratory illnesses and presentations at hospitals as alert level restrictions ease.
"We expect to see an increase in respiratory illnesses like the common cold, bronchiolitis and influenza, and may see an increase in strep throat which causes rheumatic fever in some children and young people," Northland medical officer of health Catherine Jackson said.
"We also expect to see an increase in demand for care from people who may have put off seeing their GP or seeking medical care during alert level 4 and 3.
"The DHB has planning in place should we see an increase in presentations to our emergency department."
With hospital visits also set to increase, Jackson confirmed all patients and visitors coming to DHB facilities would be asked questions about any respiratory illnesses or fever, about recent travel and about any possible contacts with Covid-19.
Virus testing would also continue at Northland's seven community-based testing centres as well as through a mobile outreach programme with nine Māori health providers, which would continue until the end of June.
Northland has only one active case remaining of its 28 positive cases of Covid-19. As at 8am yesterday, there was a total of 22 patients in Northland hospitals who were either being investigated or had been tested and had a negative result.
Eight of those 22 were "under investigation" - people who either hadn't received a test or hadn't received their test result. The remaining 14 patients had been tested and came back negative.