Coronavirus has had a "catastrophic and potentially devastating" impact on the hospitality industry, says the Restaurant Association's chief executive.
Marisa Bidois today told the Epidemic Response Committee (Komiti Ārai Mate Urutā) that the nationwide lockdown, which began 13 days ago, had drastically affected hospitality businesses.
"While none of us know exactly how this will shakedown in the long term, it is fair
to say hospitality is in crisis," she said.
"Hundreds of jobs have already been wiped out from our sector, and thousands remain at risk: families' livelihoods will be the collateral damage of ongoing indecisiveness and lack of planning."
All hospitality venues closed as the Covid-19 alert was raised to level 4, as did all non-essential services.
"Just four weeks ago we were estimating $6 million a week was being lost by hospitality businesses as a result of the travel restrictions," Bidois said.
"A staggering loss for thousands of small business owners by anyone's measure, which is now dwarfed by our current estimate of the lockdown loss to the hospitality industry as just over a billion dollars."
The Restaurant Association of New Zealand advocates for the more than 2300 hospitality businesses who have been forced to temporarily shut and more than 69,000 employees nationwide whose work life has been paused.
"Before the current Covid-19 pandemic, the hospitality industry was growing: we employed more than 133,000 people, over 18,000 restaurants and food outlets, generating annual sales in excess of $11 billion."
But businesses were sent into a tailspin as virus-spooked shoppers frequented cafes, bars and restaurants in February, Bidois said.
They were all forced to close when level 4 took effect at 11.59pm on March 25.
• Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website
Last week the Herald reported that industry experts anticipated one in every two hospitality venues in some areas may never reopen due to the lockdown and looming recession.
While the wage subsidy initially helped businesses to minimise their losses, it is no longer enough to cushion the economic blow, Bidois said.
More than half of the association's members were considering or needing to cut jobs and a fifth of members were considering shutting their doors for good, she said.
Bidois called on the Government to provide rent and lease relief to hospitality businesses.
"While many members are in discussions with their landlords regarding relief at this time, this is not always forthcoming and the ongoing cost is crippling, at a time that businesses have no access to their premises or any ability to generate an income.
"The industry desperately needs additional support from the Government in this area."
She urged the Government to immediately provide clear operations guidance for hospitality at all alert levels; to consider contactless and kerbside delivery and to amend the Ministry of Health-issued hospitality guidance.
"The most common frustration among our members has been the sheer volume of
inconsistent advice around food as an essential service, and the absence of advice of operation when alert levels change."
MBIE needed to fast track development of the guidance, which currently doesn't even exist, despite strict food safety requirements, she said.
"We also seek greater transparency and rationale on the Government's position on virus
transmission through food," she said.
"There is a growing perception that some of the food sector conditions are overly stringent, inconsistent and unfair."
The Government should also rethink the idea of a contactless food delivery programme, which would give Kiwis a sense of normalcy during the lockdown period and ease the load on overworked essential staff, Bidios said.
The Covid-19 guidelines for hospitality businesses should also be reviewed, she said.
"We would like officials to relook at the guidelines, and ensure that they better represent the diversity of the hospitality sector and how these businesses need to conduct themselves when we move between different alert levels."