WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Bars and pubs opened in New Zealand for the first time in months on Thursday, as restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus were eased further and the government looked to revive economic activity.
Venues serving alcohol have remained closed across the country despite most other businesses re-opening last week. The government said they posed additional risks, citing South Korea where a fresh spike in cases was blamed on crowded nightclubs in Seoul.
“We’re nervously excited, we’ve been closed for a really long time, which hurts,” Matt McLaughlin, a pub owner and a member of industry group Hospitality New Zealand told 1News.
“But, you know, we’re in hospitality. We love our punters, we love our people; we’re excited to get the doors open and get some bums on seats hopefully.”
The hospitality and tourism sectors were worst hit by the pandemic, as New Zealand enforced some of the tightest social restrictions in the world to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The measures helped limit infections to just over 1,500 people and 21 deaths, far fewer than many other countries.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government faces a tough task rebooting the $200 billion economy, with growth expected to slow significantly and hundreds of thousands of jobs lost.
The government announced a NZ$50 billion package last week, which included billions on infrastructure, healthcare, housing and wage subsidy schemes.
With international travel still banned, Ardern has encouraged businesses to consider allowing a four-day work week so New Zealanders can travel around the country to help the battered tourism industry.
“Ultimately, that really sits between employers and employees,” Ardern said, highlighting the increased workplace flexibility the pandemic has led to.
“Think about whether that is something that would work for your workplace, because it certainly would help tourism all around the country.”
Reporting by Praveen Menon