Auckland publican Steve Palmer says if he wasn't in New Zealand, Covid-19 probably would have killed him.

Eight years ago, the 56-year-old owner/operator of the Dog's Bollix Irish pub and events venue in Newton had a double lung transplant.

While it saved his life, the immunosuppression drugs he now takes to stop his body rejecting the foreign organs put him in one of the most high-risk categories of catching, and dying, from Covid-19.

"I basically have no immune system," he told the Herald.

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"I'll die if I catch [Covid-19]."

Since Covid-19 hit our shores, Palmer has been keeping a low profile, barely leaving his home, where he lives with his wife and two of his children, aged 5 and 5 months.

Still, he is determined to reopen his establishment: "An icon," he said.

Steve Palmer is reopening the The Dog's Bollix on Newton Rd this week, despite being a highly vulnerable to Covid-19. Photo / Michael Craig
Steve Palmer is reopening the The Dog's Bollix on Newton Rd this week, despite being a highly vulnerable to Covid-19. Photo / Michael Craig

He has watched cautiously as the number of cases and deaths in the country at first started to rise, and then become increasingly relieved as the trend reversed.

New Zealand has only 22 active cases as of Tuesday - out of a total of 1504, and has recorded just three new cases since entering level 2 restrictions on May 14, all linked to existing clusters.

Like many in the hospitality industry, Covid-19, and the societal and economic shutdown to limit its impact, had dealt an enormous blow to his business, having to shut its doors over the past two months.

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The wage subsidy has supported him and his small group of part-time staff.

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Along with other music venues around the country, he even started an online funding campaign to keep the establishment alive.

But as the country starts to open up again at level 2, to keep the pub alive and pay the rent he said had to reopen, even if for him it felt like a big risk.

"It's a bit scary, but being in New Zealand really helps. I wouldn't be doing this if I was overseas.

"But not only financially do I need to, if I don't the pub will have to shut down."

Citing the increasingly low risk, on Tuesday evening Palmer hosted a small gathering, and will look to open the pub to the public come Friday when new rules come into force allowing gatherings up to 100 people.

The venue is mainly used for booked events, from music gigs to circus acts to drag shows, though little is currently lined up.

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He would be taking "extra precautions" as he reopened, he said.

"There will be a lot of wiping surfaces and not a lot of shaking hands. I've got masks available, but I'm still not sure if we are meant to be using them or not."

Prior to his surgery eight years ago, he'd been bedridden for two years with a pulmonary disease, hooked up to a tank of oxygen, and needing to be pushed around in a wheelchair.

Steve Palmer is reopening the The Dog's Bollix on Newton Rd this week, despite being a highly vulnerable to Covid-19. Photo / Michael Craig
Steve Palmer is reopening the The Dog's Bollix on Newton Rd this week, despite being a highly vulnerable to Covid-19. Photo / Michael Craig

But soon after the life-changing operation he was on his feet again.

"It was the most incredible feeling."

He had about a 50 per cent chance to live five years, and his expected lifespan shortens by the day.

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But he said he'd been in good health, and after taking over the pub soon after his successful surgery, he found a new passion.

"Ten years ago I wouldn't have been able to walk up the stairs [to the pub]. I just really enjoy it, the music, the passion, having all of the people around - there are a lot of good memories in this place."