Published 07 May 2020
Praised globally for its management of the COVID-19 crisis, is the New Zealand government also leading the way on rules for opening restaurants, bars and cafes?
May 7, 2020 - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today the rules under which hospitality businesses will be allowed to reopen to customers. Such businesses could be allowed to open their doors as early as next week if the government decides to move to a less restricted COVID-19 alert level in their cabinet meeting next Monday.
The rules center around the ‘Three S’ principle - seated, separated and single server. Hospitality venues are only permitted to reopen if they can meet the requirements of the ‘Three S’ rules.
Hospitality venues will be permitted to have as many customers as can be safely seated without congestion, up to a maximum of 100 customers at any one time, regardless of venue size. Customers must be seated and cannot congregate in bars or other areas.
New Zealand is understandably wary about large groups in hospitality venues after a St Patrick’s Day party in a bar in Matamata was linked to at least 77 cases of COVID-19, one of New Zealand’s largest clusters to date. As Ms Ardern said in her announcement, “COVID loves congregations” and it’s difficult to perform contact tracing for people who have been in large crowds.
Under the new rules, tables and people must be at least 2 meters / 6 feet apart from each other. Ms Ardern stated that she understood for some venues this may make it uneconomical to open but it’s up to individual businesses to make that decision.
The single server rule means that customers can no longer place orders at counters or bars, and instead must be served by a single server for the duration of their visit. This minimizes contact between people within the venue and makes contact tracing easier to perform.
Ms Adern further explained that hospitality businesses are also responsible for managing customer contact outside the venue. For example, if there are line of people waiting to enter, the venue must find ways to ensure physical distancing.
Businesses that do not comply with these new rules will be shut down and will lose their ability to operate. Ms Ardern explained the need for the strict rules as “There are significant risks in hospitality and so there are significant rules to manage those risks.”.
New Zealand is currently at Alert Level 3 under which pubs, restaurants and cafes are not permitted to open, but could move to Alert Level 2 as early as next week. The aim of Level 2 is to reduced close contact with strangers to prevent new clusters of COVID-19. “We do need to behave differently to prevent it taking off again.”, Ms Ardern said. “In a nutshell, the principle behind Level 2 is ‘Play it Safe’”.
The ‘Three S’ rule was put together with the Hospitality Association of New Zealand and whilst it’s recognized that for some food businesses it may slow down service, increase the number of employees required or simply make it uneconomical to open, for many it’s a welcome sigh of relief after a trying two months.
It’s up to all food businesses around the world to play their part in making their return to business a safe one. As Ms Ardern said in her announcement today, “Success or failure could depend on something as simple as how often you clean the handrails.”.