Covid-19 Omicron outbreak: Anxiety hitting some sectors hard

Anxiety concerning Omicron is hitting southern businesses hard as a different wave associated with the Covid-19 pandemic suffocates some sectors.

Despite the easing of Covid restrictions, retail areas remain quiet and crowds small.

Only 7563 people ventured to Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium for Saturday’s Super Rugby match after the Government scrapped safeguards, including crowd limits on outdoor events.

The crowd was far from the 18,218 people there in 2020 when the lifting of the alert level 1 lockdown was celebrated with Super Rugby at the stadium.

Last Saturday's Super Rugby Pacific match between the Highlanders and Blues at Forsyth Barr Stadium drew a crowd of fewer than 8000. Photo/Peter McIntosh
Last Saturday’s Super Rugby Pacific match between the Highlanders and Blues at Forsyth Barr Stadium drew a crowd of fewer than 8000. Photo/Peter McIntosh

But back then it appeared New Zealand had escaped the threat from Covid-19 relatively unscathed.

Today, the Ministry of Health announced 34 more people had died with the disease, taking the total number of deaths to 303.

There were 17,148 new community cases of Covid-19 nationally.

Business South chief executive Mike Collins said the next four to six weeks would be crucial for businesses looking for a steer as to how long the tail of the Omicron outbreak would last.

Some southern retail outfits were down 20% to 30% in takings, Mr Collins said.

“We can flick a switch and change some rules, but the behavioral change around confidence and trust and those types of characteristics are likely to take time,” he said.

Otago Business School marketing professor Robert Aitken said attendance of sporting events, or music events, was typically “quite heavily peer driven”.

For the elderly, at the higher end of the vulnerability scale, there was a strong reluctance to get out and about at present, Prof Aitken said.

That group was being “extremely cautious”, he said.

“I think for those people it will be quite some time before they venture out more confidently.

“I think it will be ‘bit by bit’ as their friends venture out, or their children venture out.

“They’ll do it gradually, but certainly, left to themselves, I think they’re going to err on the side of caution.”

Even students, some of whom had been out celebrating already, appeared to be going out on a “very localised basis”, often sticking to the student quarter.

“There are some pretty substantial things happening around the place, and I don’t think we’ve got to a state of mind where we can just go out and forget everything and celebrate,” Prof Aitken said.

“I think we’re still dealing with, A: a number of deaths, and B: with what’s going on around the world.

“It’s not surprising that people are not jumping up and down.”

Dunedin mayor Aaron Hawkins said people were at a point now where they were being asked to make their own risk assessments, rather than rely on Covid protection measures.

“They have to ask not just ‘am I allowed to do this?’ but also ‘even if I can, is this a good idea?’,” he said.

“Announcements like we’ve seen from the University [of Otago] about additional graduation events are certainly encouraging, in terms of helping our hospitality and events sectors rebuild.”

Despite the easing of restrictions, most Easter events already canceled would remain that way, organisers said.

Alexandra Lions Club Easter Bunny Hunt organiser Guy Harris said the event remained unviable because farm owners were wary of allowing up to 220 hunters on to their properties.

Clyde’s annual Wine and Food Harvest Festival organiser Louise Joyce said the event would not go ahead because of concerns about the virus still spreading around the region.