Kiwis facing a Covid Christmas without family - or their favourite gifts

Author
Ben Leahy, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 17 Oct 2021, 9:42AM
Christmas is looking different this year for Kiwis as families find it more difficult to get together and secure the right presents. (Photo / 123rf)
Christmas is looking different this year for Kiwis as families find it more difficult to get together and secure the right presents. (Photo / 123rf)

Kiwis facing a Covid Christmas without family - or their favourite gifts

Author
Ben Leahy, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 17 Oct 2021, 9:42AM

Be warned - Christmas is shaping differently for many Kiwis this year.

Not only could Santa find it hard to deliver that special gift in time for December 25 as global supply shortages bite, but petrol prices have also hit record highs and many families may have trouble getting together this festive season.

For families, that's because of Government travel restrictions, which are not only making it hard for Kiwis to return from overseas, but also curtailing domestic travel.

If the current Delta outbreak cannot be contained, then Aucklanders - and even those in other regions - face the prospect of potentially being kept in lockdown until Christmas.

Shoppers, meanwhile, are being warned to get their orders in "immediately" or risk missing out on getting the gift they want shipped in from overseas in time.

E-bikes and guitars are among items facing potentially long shipping delays, retail groups say.

Shipping delays are causing delays in supplies of everything from guitars to e-bikes. Photo / 123RF

Shipping delays are causing delays in supplies of everything from guitars to e-bikes. Photo / 123RF

So cross your fingers, deck the halls with boughs of holly and think positive thoughts as we go through some of the festive challenges ahead this Christmas.

Family fun

Let's start with the positives. Thousands of Kiwis living overseas are already beginning their journeys home in what - for many - will be their first joyous family reunions since the Covid pandemic began.

Then there are Kiwis living in regions currently in level 2, who will be hoping they can return to level 1 by Christmas.

That would allow them to get together with family to enjoy a Covid-free lifestyle almost unheard of in the rest of the world in the past two years.

Yet, on the flip side, there are thousands more Kiwis overseas who are unlikely to be able to return home this Christmas as demand for hotel isolation rooms far outstrips supply.

Families might find it harder to get together this Christmas with international and domestic travel restrictions likely. Photo / 123rf

Families might find it harder to get together this Christmas with international and domestic travel restrictions likely. Photo / 123rf

Uncertainty also surrounds domestic travel and whether Kiwis across New Zealand will be able to unite or not.

Travel in and out of Auckland and its level 3 lockdown is currently strictly regulated.

That means Aucklanders who have family outside the city cannot currently travel to be with them, and vice versa.

And with Covid case numbers beginning to rise, the probability is growing the outbreak will escape the city and send other regions into level 3 and a potential future of living with the virus permanently.

Labour has promised new freedoms for the nation once vaccination rates hit or climb above 90 per cent.

But there is no certainty those vaccination rates will be achieved at all, let alone before Christmas.

Otago University epidemiologist Michael Baker believes Aucklanders can expect to be in lockdown for the rest of the year.

Auckland may still be locked down this Christmas, experts say. Photo / 123rf

Auckland may still be locked down this Christmas, experts say. Photo / 123rf

And how the virus plays out in Auckland will be key for the rest of the country.

Should tough suppression or elimination controls and a stricter border around the city prevent the virus making repeated escapes, then the rest of the country might be able to travel freely under level 2 rules this Christmas, Baker said.

"Auckland is the challenging environment," he said.

Travel troubles and high costs

Brent Thomas, president of the Travel Agents Association of NZ, hopes all of New Zealand will be open for domestic travel over Christmas.

"It will be a sad day if we are in such a situation that families can't get together this Christmas, given we are nearly two years into this Covid pandemic," he said.

For those in alert level 2 settings who can travel over the festive season, Thomas said the costs of flying and driving are likely to be a little higher.

That includes petrol prices, which have hit record highs, according to tracking app Gaspy.

It said the nation's average 91 octane price currently sits at $2.39, slightly up on the previous record high in the second half of 2018.

In practice, many service stations around the country are now charging more than $2.50 per litre of fuel, adding pressure on Kiwis who are already facing rising costs elsewhere.

For those looking to fly, Thomas said Christmas is always a "high peak season" and so flight costs can also be a step up.

Petrol prices have also hit a record high in another blow to Kiwis. Photo / File

Petrol prices have also hit a record high in another blow to Kiwis. Photo / File

However, airlines would be ready to put on extra flights to meet demand should domestic travel be permitted, he said.

"One of the key things people need to look at is to make sure they've got flexibility around their bookings so if they have to change it they are able to," Thomas said.

Accommodation prices could also be a mixed bag given many owners have been doing it tough.

Hostels targeting young travellers, for example, have been especially hard hit.

About one-third of hostels have closed or been put in hibernation since international borders closed, the Backpacker Youth and Adventure Tourism Association said.

That highlights how room prices for all types of accommodation could vary this summer as some places offer cheap deals to get customers in, while others close their doors, leaving fewer options to choose from.

And while quarantine-free international travel is off the cards until next year, Thomas said Kiwis should start thinking about and potentially booking their 2022 holidays soon.

"Christmas is always a popular time of the year for people to talk about travel – they will be thinking of all those idyllic places they want to go and haven't been able to go to for two years," he said.

Retail NZ's Chris Harford says Kiwis should get in and buy their Christmas gifts early if they want to be sure of having them under the tree on December 25. Photo / File

Retail NZ's Chris Harford says Kiwis should get in and buy their Christmas gifts early if they want to be sure of having them under the tree on December 25. Photo / File

Cruise ships holidays are already taking off again, and popular favourites such as Hawaii, the Caribbean and parts of Europe are quickly booking out for 2022 because of pent-up demand, he said.

Finding that special gift

Global shipping delays and the potential that retail outlets in Auckland – and possibly elsewhere – may not be able to physically open their stores in the lead-up to Christmas, means Kiwis should try and think ahead this year.

"It is a good idea to shop early and get it home, wrapped and hidden away," Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said.

Issues plaguing shipping during the pandemic have led fewer container ships to call into New Zealand ports, and freight costs have jumped.

A survey by analysts Retail Radar found two-thirds of retailers plan to put up prices to cover costs, and delays are affecting almost everything including electronics, clothing, power tools, books, gym equipment and games.

Retailers earlier told the Herald the products proving most difficult to get in include e-bikes, guitar brands and popular kids' toys.

Shopping for Christmas gifts might not be the same last-minute dash it has been in past years. Photo / 123rf

Shopping for Christmas gifts might not be the same last-minute dash it has been in past years. Photo / 123rf

But Harford encouraged Kiwis to get out and support retailers this Christmas as those in Auckland were still doing it tough under level 3 restrictions.

"There will be products available on the shelves, there just might not be the same range of products that you would normally be expecting," he said.

"Black Friday through to Christmas and the New Year sales will be more important than ever this because it is usually the time of year when retailers generate their profits for the year."