Hospitality New Zealand has pushed back at a health expert's claim that hospitality venues are high risk, saying restaurants and cafes are safe settings, and is calling on consumers to continue frequenting them.
University of Auckland infectious diseases expert Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles had said that indoor hospitality venues where people do not wear masks pose a high risk of Covid transmission.
"Transmission through the air does mean some environments are higher risk than others - especially indoor environments where people are not wearing masks," Wiles said.
"This is why I am concerned about hospitality and other similar venues.
"It doesn't matter if groups of people are seated one metre away from each other, if they are indoors, especially if the place is badly ventilated, then the risk of transmission is high and we've seen lots of examples of Omicron spreading in these types of settings overseas."
Improving ventilation and introducing air-purifiers were ways to reduce this risk, she said.
But Hospitality NZ CEO Julie White says hospitality venues are now considered low risk with proper red light settings in place.
"Because all our workforce is vaccinated, and all the guests who come into the venues are vaccinated. We also have control measures such as 'seated and separated'," she told the Herald.
"The sector has been preparing for this with the Government."
Capacity limits of 100 also lower the transmission risk and help to make hospitality venues safer than household gatherings for example, she said.
White is encouraging consumers to wear masks where practical, and many do mask up when they leave their tables, she said. "It's pretty hard to have a mask on when eating."
Many in the sector are heaving a sigh of relief that there isn't a lockdown at this stage, but are expecting a traditional dip in consumer confidence that happens after every major Covid announcement or setting change.
The uncertainty over how long New Zealand will be at the red light setting is another challenge.
"These are really important details for business owners to make decisions," White said. "What type of bookings to take, how many days of the week should they open?"
She is also concerned about the number of businesses who will not be able to open their doors because of the ongoing staff shortage, likely to be worsened by an Omicron outbreak.
"We're so short-staffed, we won't have people to replace those people who are isolating."
Restaurant Association CEO Marisa Bidois agrees. The association is calling for financial support for businesses to work through this new variant.
"We know from the Omicron outbreak in other countries that the spread of this variant has caused a lot of uncertainty for businesses who are closing because of staff shortages as a result of exposure."
Bidois said the red light setting will restrict numbers and reduce overall revenue for businesses.
"We would like to see a reintroduction of the wage subsidy and resurgence payments for those business most impacted by the restrictions," she said.