Work is under way to allow Auckland restaurants and cafés to follow London, Paris and New York in expanding onto the street in anticipation of Covid-19 restrictions lasting at least until the end of the year.
Most of New Zealand moved to alert level 2 last week, excluding the Auckland region which remains at level 4 until at least Tuesday next week. But Auckland eateries are planning ahead.
Level 2 restrictions are tighter under what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern labelled “Delta 2”. Face coverings are required in most public venues and indoor hospitality venues now are limited to 50 people, while outdoor venues can seat up to 100.
Epidemiologist Michael Baker said Tāmaki Makaurau may remain at alert level 2 “long-term” because of the “substantially” higher risk which the Delta variant posed.
Auckland Councillor Richard Hills said it was important businesses could quickly expand their outdoor seating because many “won’t survive long-term” under new restricted numbers.
“It’s better than lockdown, but it’s not going to be easy for them to maintain without some extra spaces for people to eat,” Hills said.
He said major cities like New York and London had embraced outdoors dining as a result of Covid-19 by closing off streets and reclaiming space from cars for people to expand into, he said.
Auckland could follow suit by installing temporary barriers along some one-way roads or blocking some sections of a lane along Ponsonby Rd, but how this was to be enacted was to be finalised with Auckland Transport (AT), he said.
In Paris, makeshift cafe terraces which sprang up across the city last year to serve Covid-wary patrons outdoors were so popular they have now become permanent summer fixtures.
Baker said because Covid-19 was now “firmly established” as being transmitted through the air, it meant the “outdoors and ventilation really are your friends”.
Indoor venue limits or masks wearing may have to be extended to alert level 1, he said.
“Obviously, you want to give people maximal freedoms, but retain some restrictions so the damage done by an unexpected case is minimised.”
Auckland Council general manager licensing and regulatory compliance James Hassall said teams from the council and AT were meeting to see what would be feasible.
Businesses across Auckland could already apply for a licence to use the footpath in front of their premises and Hills was seeking to speed up approval times.
Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck said Auckland’s central city had lost more than $80 million in consumer spending and she was keen to see more “innovative ideas” to support businesses.
“It is an opportunity because this new level 2 really cuts down the opportunity for trading.
“So the idea of having restaurants and cafes spill out further into the streets – if they want to – will help them, but also add vibrancy to the city,” Beck said.
Ponsonby Business Association manager Vivienne Rosenberg said there had been “a lot of discussions” about this among businesses and restaurants.
“If a reduction of seats on the inside is being bolstered by additional seating on the outside that has got to be good for business and there’ll be heaps of support,” she said.