WELLINGTON, March 11 (Reuters) – New Zealand’s tight bubble of COVID-19 was once praised around the world, but for local businesses tight border controls are increasingly felt like a scapegoat as a shortage of foreign workers and tourists is squeezing the island nation’s economy.

Meat processors have cut production, grapes are withering on the vine, and a shortage of foreign visitors makes some tour operators worry they will have to close stores by the time the borders open later this year.

New Zealand’s rapid response to the pandemic, including tight border controls, kept the country largely free of COVID-19 until late last year, receiving high praise from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government at home and abroad.

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But public anger over persistent domestic restrictions has since grown, reaching a foothold last month during violent protests near the country’s legislature in Wellington. read on

A poll conducted on Thursday found that support for Labor’s Ardennes party is the lowest since 2017.

This frustration has also spread to the business community, which wants the government to speed up the restoration of borders.

“The government has done an outstanding job to get us to where we are, but people are tired and just want to keep doing it,” said Jude Catcart, who runs The Jollie Biker cycling company on the South Island of New Zealand.

Prior to closing the border about 40% of Cathcart’s customers were from Australia and she wants them back.

According to a plan announced before the Omicron option became widespread, a gradual easing of border controls will allow New Zealand to be fully open to vaccinated travelers only in October.

But due to the fact that Omicron is now widespread in society, business and agriculture see little value in staying open to the rest of the world and have increased calls to speed up the resumption of work.

“The situation is getting tough (for the tourism sector),” said Linda Keane, executive director of the New Zealand Tourism Export Council, saying that if the restrictions were right, the world would move on.

New Zealand now has an average of 20,000 cases a day out of a population of 5 million.

Although infection rates have jumped, hospitalizations and mortality are still extremely low by world standards.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 208,000 infections and less than a hundred deaths have been registered in the country.

New Zealand derives most of its economic income from agriculture and tourism, and the lack of foreign labor is a particular headache for those working in the seafood, viticulture and horticulture sectors.

Syrma Karapeeva, executive director of the Meat Industry Association, said the slaughterhouses were already facing labor shortages because they could not attract personnel from the Pacific or Middle East islands. New local outbreaks of COVID-19 are now adding to the headaches of childbirth when infected personnel need to be isolated.

“They can’t get more manpower,” she said. “They are forced to work with less power.”


Chris Hipkins, New Zealand’s COVID-19 response minister, said Wednesday that he expects a decision to ease border restrictions by the end of the month.

The closure of border isolation facilities – used to return citizens and residents – will begin in April, as vaccinated New Zealanders now have to isolate themselves only at home.

In a broader sense, the problems of COVID-19 in society are beginning to affect the economy through the breakdown of supply chains, staff are forced to be isolated and bother consumers.

Logistical problems, declining food production opportunities and businesses forced to hire more staff and pay for the sick are contributing to inflationary pressures.

Expenditure on e-cards fell 7.8% in February compared to January, and consumer confidence fell to a minimum during the 2008 global financial crisis.

“It’s a shock factor that you are likely to get COVID in the next 12 months,” said ANZ chief economist for New Zealand Sharon Zolner.

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Report by Lucy Kramer; Edited by Sam Holmes

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