24 Mar 2020

Coronavirus lockdown: Is the Warehouse an essential service?

6:20 pm on 24 March 2020

There is still major confusion tonight over whether stores like The Warehouse would open their doors come Thursday, with just over 24 hours until the lockdown period begins.

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The Warehouse said it will remain open during the four-week lockdown in New Zealand, but the government says nothing has been settled yet. Photo: Rafael Ben-Ari/Chameleons Eye/ 123rf

The level four lockdown of the country begins at 11.59pm on Wednesday as the country tries to stop the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus.

Retail giants, hardware stores and manufacturers have all been desperately seeking clarification over whether they are considered "essential services".

The Warehouse said this morning it would be keeping its doors open - but the government said that might not be the leaving businesses in the dark with just over 24 hours to go until the lockdown period begins.

"The government has not decided that the Warehouse will be open, we are working through those firms that will be required, or allowed to remain open," said Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) deputy chief executive Paul Stocks said.

"I would caution firms from leaping to judgements about what their status will be before they have received an adjudication from the government."

The Warehouse Group said in a statement this afternoon was discussion with the government about what items within its stores will remain available, and an announcement would be made tomorrow morning.

Briscoe was sticking with its planned shutdown of Rebel Sport and its homeware stores, as managing director Rod Duke said he was putting customer and staff safety first.

"We were not given any indication by anyone that if we chose to sell hand sanitizer and toilet paper we'd be allowed to open... and at the end of the day I think I'm a bit more interested in the safety and wellbeing of my staff rather than a few sales of toilet rolls."

But First Union organiser Robin Wilson-Whiting said allowing large retailers to remain open to sell groceries items and pet food would help supermarket staff.

"Our position is that having that sort of product available to customers in these circumstances could be beneficial as long as it's contained and those are the only items that are available from a health and safety point of view - that would release the pressure that we're seeing on our members in the supermarket."

The Employment and Manufacturers Assocation, the largest business member organisation in the country, has been inundated with calls from its members.

Head of advocacy and strategy Alan McDonald said it has received more than 250 calls a day from businesses asking wanting to know if they can stay open.

"Too many people don't know what an essential business is and they are going to make the decision for themselves. These are people who have built up businesses over years and the prospect of seeing that disappear or struggle, they are going 'well I'm gonna open.'"

Meanwhile, Bunnings were unable to comment on whether its doors would be open come Thursday morning.

An 0800 number for businesses to ask if they are considered essential or not has been made.

Jewellery retailer Michael Hill International said it will close all its New Zealand and Australian stores. Its Canadian stores have been closed for more than a week.

The company said staff were being stood down and told to use leave, while it looked at government wage support schemes. It has also scrapped a planned interim dividend payout.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

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