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As New Zealand shifts to Phase 2 of the Government’s Covid-19 Omicron plan, hospitality executives are describing staff stand-down rules as a “minefield”, and other organisations are looking at how best to handle such issues.

A survey by Hospitality New Zealand at the beginning of February showed 58% of business owners were preparing for insolvency within the next three months, and the organisation said growing Omicron case numbers could affect the viability of even more businesses.

Phase 2 reduces the isolation period for cases to 10 days and contacts to seven days.

It also enables close contacts of positive cases who are asymptomatic critical workers to “test to return” using rapid antigen tests (Rats), but hospitality staff are not considered critical.

Hospitality New Zealand Central Otago vice-president and general manager of The Gate complex in Cromwell Glen Christiansen said there seemed to be blurred lines on what constituted a casual contact and who was considered a close contact.

Hospitality NZ had put out resources for its members on what to do if someone with Covid had been at their premises, but the logistics of that were “brutal” when put in practice, he said.

At The Gate, departments worked in bubbles but managers had to also look at how employees lived outside of work.

Several of his staff members in different departments and even different buildings shared living spaces, Mr Christiansen said.

“A kitchenhand flats with a worker from the Super Liquor.

“It’s a minefield.”

Darelle Jenkins, Hospitality NZ regional manager for the lower South Island, said a large number of businesses in Queenstown had to shut after being identified as locations of interest because they no longer had the staff to keep working.

It was “almost inevitable” the same would happen throughout the region, she said.

Speaking of one person who visited five businesses in one evening before testing positive, Ms Jenkins said that probably meant five staff at each venue and maybe 20 patrons were potentially close contacts.

“One case shut down five businesses.”

Once the businesses were able to reopen, they faced similar scenarios.

“They, potentially, will go back to work for a couple of days, will become a location of interest again and have to shut again.

“It’s a minefield,” she said. “You are dodging mines left, right and centre.”

She called for Rats and “test to return” to be available for a wider range of workers.

“If we don’t move to using rapid antigen tests soon, our economy is going to be decimated.”

Hospitality NZ’s survey of 400 members at the start of February reveals that business is at least as bad as any other time during the Covid-19 response.

Hospitality NZ chief executive officer Julie White said the only thing that would save half of hospitality was Government financial assistance by the end of this month.

“We’ve got through two hard years but it’s unlikely many will make it through the next two or three months of Omicron.”

Staffing levels are an issue in other industries also, with supermarkets and schools preparing for Omicron to impact on their staffing levels.

Taking the initiative . . . Fresh Choice Cromwell is advertising for staff to cover any shortages caused by staff becoming ill or having to isolate. PHOTO: SHANNON THOMSON

Fresh Choice Cromwell is advertising for casual workers to cover any shortages caused by Covid and owner Sue Clark said the business was trying to run as normally as possible.

“This is a day-by-day thing and we can only work on a day-by-day basis,” she said.

Staff shortages at schools impact directly on family lives and Cromwell Primary School’s new principal, Matthew McCormick, said the school will follow accepted protocols.

“In the case that there is a confirmed case within the school, we will follow Ministry of Health advice, which may include a period of online learning.”

Roxburgh Area School principal Paul McDowall said having a roll of 142 with 18 teachers worked in the school’s favour.

“Because we are quite a small school we are able to be more flexible and combine classes,” he said.

Anna Harrison, principal of Goldfields Primary School in Cromwell, said the expectation from the Ministry of Education was to keep schools open wherever possible.

It was a time of increased anxiety and caution for staff and pupils’ families but a hybrid model of some online learning combined with in-class teaching was possible.

“We have to be clear at what point we need to move to a mixed model or close the school for a time to allow people to isolate.”