A craft brewery owner fears a Covid-19 bottle shop cluster as people queue to enter the few West Auckland liquor stores permitted to remain open during lockdown.
But the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) says allowing more alcohol stores to open under alert level 4 “unnecessarily increases the odds of transmission”.
The country moved into the Government’s alert level 4 protocols at 11.59pm last Tuesday due to an outbreak of the virus’ Delta variant.
During the lockdown, businesses deemed essential services are permitted to continue operating.
In Auckland, this includes liquor retailers under the Portage and Waitakere Licensing Trusts, which has held a monopoly over hotels, taverns and bottle stores in the city’s west since the 1970s and prevents alcohol sales at supermarkets.
However, Hopscotch owner Hugh Grierson must shut his Avondale microbrewery’s doors – as do other independent alcohol businesses in the area.
“During level 4 last year, in the first week of lockdown, Cabinet realised they couldn’t shut all the liquor stores out west because then people would be driving out of zone for alcohol,” he told the Herald.
An exemption was granted by MBIE to all liquor retailers in the area, allowing Grierson to stay open. But after a week it was tightened to only include the trusts stores, he said.
According to the trusts website, all 24 retail stores will be open during their normal opening hours during the current lockdown, with in-store customer number restrictions depending on the size of the shop.
Online sales are also available for click and collect and delivery. All of the trusts hospitality venues, however, will be closed during level 4.
But Grierson believed with so few alcohol stores for a large population there was a risk of a cluster with people waiting in line or in-store.
“It’s a huge health risk, I’m expecting there to be a cluster from a bottle shop,” he said.
Hopscotch, however, must remain closed despite Grierson and others like West Auckland Licensing Trusts Action Group spokesman Nick Smale complaining to MBIE and the Ombudsman – which is yet to be resolved.
“They haven’t changed anything, they won’t change anything because they say ‘health reasons’,” Grierson said, blaming Wellington bureaucracy.
“Everyone’s just washing their hands, status quo. With 24 stores for 400,000 people.”
Grierson said small businesses like his are being crushed by the latest lockdown.
“It’s ruining me, I’m paying rent, I can’t sell any beer.”
Hopscotch is continuing to operate online deliveries and email orders, he said, but if allowed to stay open he would operate a contactless pick-up system.
An MBIE spokesperson said the issue of allowing liquor stores to open has been “thoroughly reviewed” and its position remains unchanged.
They said workplaces can only open their premises for staff and/or customers as an level 4 business or service if it meets criteria defined in the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Alert Level Requirements) Order.
“It is up to businesses to check whether they meet the definition of an alert level 4 business or service – businesses cannot make an application to provide an alert level 4 service.
“These businesses and services are deemed as providing a critical function for New Zealanders during the lockdown and the issue of allowing liquor stores to open has been thoroughly reviewed. The current settings are intended to minimise the movement of people and their interactions with other people.”
MBIE said having businesses deemed non-essential operating during lockdown “unnecessarily increases the odds of transmission” with workers moving in and out of their home bubbles, connecting bubbles and increasing the potential chain of infection.
The most up-to-date guidance for businesses and individuals operating at level 4, including both independent liquor stores and liquor licence trust stores, is available at business.govt.nz.
The site states, licensed supermarkets and licensing trust stores in the country’s four licensing trust areas with a monopoly can sell alcohol. Open liquor store premises must also operate with a one-in-one-out rule.
Off-licence holders whose license enables them to sell and deliver alcohol remotely can also do so through contactless delivery.
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