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As Omicron surges, New Zealand’s businesses want COVID bubble burst -Breaking


© Reuters. The Wellington, New Zealand testing site for coronavirus disease (19COVID-19), March 11, 2022. REUTERS/Lucy Craymer


Lucy Craymer

WELLINGTON, (Reuters) – New Zealand’s COVID-19 bubble is once hailed globally. However for local businesses the tight border controls feel increasingly like a straitjacket. The lack of foreign workers and tourists helps squeeze the economy of the island country.

Some tourism operators are worried that they may have to shut down their businesses when borders reopen in the coming year because of cuts made by meat processors, vines withering and grapes on the vines.

New Zealand’s quick response to the pandemic (including strict border control) earned Prime Minister Jacinda ardern high praises at home and abroad.

But the public has grown increasingly angry at domestic restrictions, culminating in violent demonstrations outside Wellington’s national legislature last month.

A poll taken closely on Thursday revealed that support for the Labour Party was at its lowest level since 2017.

The frustration extended to businesspeople, as well. They want government to speed up the reopening of their borders.

Jude Cathcart from New Zealand’s South Island runs The Jollie Biker bike touring company. “The government is doing an outstanding job but people want to keep going.”

Before the closure of the border, Cathcart had around 40% customers from Australia. She is eager to get them back.

According to an earlier plan, New Zealand would be fully open for travel in October under a gradual easing of the border controls.

Omicron has become a major problem in this community. Businesses and farmers see no reason to remain isolated from the outside world, so they are urging for a faster reopening.

Lynda Keene (chief executive of Tourism Export Council of New Zealand), stated that while there were restrictions in the past, they had been overturned and the world has moved on.

New Zealand currently has approximately 20,000 new cases per day. This is despite having a population that exceeds 5 million.

Although the incidence of infection has increased, deaths and hospitalizations are still very low according to international standards.

The country has had less than 100 deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic. It has recorded 208,000 new infections.

New Zealand draws a lot of its income from tourism and agriculture, and foreign labor is often a problem for those working in the seafood, wine and horticulture sector.

Sirma Karpeeva, the chief executive officer of the Meat Industry Association said that abattoirs already had labour shortages as they could not bring in people from the Pacific Islands or Middle East. The new COVID-19 epidemics in localities are causing more labour difficulties, with the need to isolate sick staff.

She said, “They cannot source more labor.” She said, “They are having to work at a lower capacity.”

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Chris Hipkins is New Zealand’s COVID-19 Response Minister. He stated that he expects a decision to be reached by the end the month regarding easing the border restrictions.

The closure of border isolation facilities -– used for returning citizens and residents –- will start in April as vaccinated New Zealanders are now only required to isolate at home.

More generally, COVID-19 challenges are starting to affect the economy. This is due to supply-chain problems, employees being isolated and concerned consumers.

Inflation pressures are being exacerbated by logistical problems, reduced food production capability, and increased staffing and compensation for sick employees.

In February, electronic card spending fell 7.8% compared to January. Consumer confidence is also down below the lows of 2008’s global financial crisis.

Sharon Zollner (ANZ chief economist, New Zealand) stated that it is “the shock factor” that most people will get COVID within the next 12 month.