Central Otago is again feeling the negative financial and social impacts of Covid-19, as the Red light traffic setting results in large events cancelled or postponed, and councils and health services tweak existing protocols to prepare for the arrival of Omicron.
The Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow, which was first held in 1988, was cancelled for the second consecutive year, with the decision announced on Monday morning.
Warbirds Over Wanaka Community Trust chairman John Gilks said the board of trustees was left with no option following the Government’s decision to put the whole country into the Red traffic light setting.
The airshow traditionally attracted some 55,000 people over three days and injected more than $40million into the southern lakes regional economy, so secondary effects of the cancellation would be felt throughout the region.
Challenge Wanaka also cancelled its popular annual triathlon festival, scheduled for February 19.
Race director Bill Roxburgh said the Challenge Wanaka Sports Trust and race team had been working tirelessly on options for how they might continue the event.
“But we strongly believe this option is the best for our competitors and community alike, in the face of what could be a prolonged length of time in the Red light setting,” he said.
The Central Otago A&P Association announced on Tuesday that its 125th Anniversary Show, to be held in Omakau on February 12, would be postponed to 2023.
Show president Dayna Paterson said 125 years of tradition needed to be celebrated in style.
“We tried our hardest to bring you an A&P show this year,” she said.
“It is disappointing it has come to this, but this is the only decision we could make, keeping the community in mind with everything that we do.”
Central Otago District Council chief executive Sanchia Jacobs said the Red setting did not mean much change from Orange from a council perspective.
“The main change is capacity limits at our pools, libraries and the rules around gathering/event limits impacting events held at council venues,” she said.
Vaccine passes were already required to be shown for entry at the council’s pools, libraries, Ranfurly i-Site and the Roxburgh service centre/library/i-Site.
Under the Red setting, working from home was encouraged but the council had been operating with no more than 50% of its staff in the office at one time since the last lockdown, and would continue to do that.
“We have also planned for other contingencies like workplace bubbles, cover for business continuity and the delivery of critical roles in the event of an outbreak,” Ms Jacobs said.
The Queenstown Lakes District Council said the Ardmore St office in Wanaka would remain open with limited maximum occupancy levels based on 1m physical distancing.
Public facilities that previously required a vaccine pass to enter would continue to do so and masks were required in all public areas.
All council offices had a maximum capacity of 50% and many teams were working in bubbles to ensure there would be sufficient people to keep essential operations running.
“We encourage our visitors to follow information and guidance from the local health board and the Ministry of Health, as well as staying up to date on any guidance from the Government on the Red setting, mask mandates etc,” a council spokeswoman said.
Similarly, the change to Red would not alter how Central Otago Health Services Ltd, which runs Dunstan Hospital, operated for now, chief executive Kathryn de Luc said.
The fast spread of Omicron would be challenging and stretch the organisation’s capacity, Dr de Luc said.
“However, we have been planning for Covid, albeit with different variants, for the past two years.
“We have robust escalation plans in place and well-trained staff.”
The best way people could protect themselves and preserve the region’s ability to maintain services was to get a vaccine booster shot as soon as they became eligible, and get children vaccinated now they were eligible, she said.
Vaccine effectiveness against hospitalisation increased to about 90% after a booster dose, including for those over 65 years of age.
Hospitality New Zealand Central Otago vice-president and The Gate Complex general manager Glen Christiansen said the move to Red would have a huge effect on hospitality venues.
“It will cause huge financial losses,” he said, giving the example of a wedding The Gate hosted on Saturday with 150 attendees, that could not have gone ahead this week.
“The cancellation of Warbirds over Wanaka is huge and business to the region.”
Venues and events would suffer from cancelled events, and existing staffing shortages would be amplified by the need for seated table service only.
“It’s already a staffing crisis.
“We just ask that people respect that and are patient and grateful they can still come to our venues.”