16 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Details on alert level 3 provides relief for some industries

6:52 pm on 16 April 2020

Businesses operating under alert level 3 will be able to stretch their legs somewhat - provided social distancing and health and safety measures are in place.

A locked up construction site in a suburb in South Auckland of day 1 of the lockdown.

A locked up construction site in a suburb in South Auckland of day 1 of the lockdown. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The prime minister has stressed face-to-face contact, unless with your bubble, should still be avoided.

While the changes will not see a heaving Lambton Quay or Queen Street by any stretch, behind the scenes the wheels could begin to turn again.

Hallenstein Glasson Holdings group managing director Mary Devine said being able to offer all products online, as well as trialling click and collect at certain stores, was a welcome reality.

"I know the customers will be delighted because a lot of the comments we've been getting through our different social channels, they're certainly hungry for new product."

But for others without sophisticated e-commerce sites, alert level 3 could look quite similar, to level 4.

Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said about three quarters of retailers had some sort of digital presence set up and ready to go, but for others it was not that simple.

"The big challenge is going to be for that remaining quarter of retailers who haven't been digitally enabled in the past," Harford said.

"A lot of those businesses that don't have an online presence might include cafes and takeaway bars, so a number of those businesses will be thinking about what they can do to generate some cashflow."

He said the level 3 restrictions, while certainly more welcome than those currently in place, were still too tight in some areas.

"There's a number of businesses that could operate safely on a one-in one-out basis the same way a local dairy might," Harford said.

"There are certainly situations where it would be really valuable to have some of those businesses up and running… a specialty grocer for example, so that's something we're looking to pick up with the government."

While retailers try and figure out how they can operate when the country moves to level 3, the hospitality sector - which relies on face-to-face customer service in bars and restaurants - may have more difficulty.

Drive-through will be allowed as well as other contactless services like home delivery or click and collect.

Fish and chip shops are closed under the Covid-19 alert level four lockdown.

Fish and chip shops are closed under the Covid-19 alert level four lockdown. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

But Christchurch businessman Antony Gough, who developed the city's $140 million Terrace hospitality precinct, said his tenants would not be doing that.

"Uber Eats takes 30 percent of your margin and that's an overseas company so you're just feeding someone overseas," Gough said.

"Restaurants would normally make about 10 percent of the sale price of the product … so if they use Uber Eats they'll lose 20 percent on every sale they make."

It was not just consumer goods being given room to breathe, the forestry sector, which had been hit badly by the pandemic, was also planning how it might gear up.

PF Olsen chief executive Te Kapunga Dewes said capacity fell 40 percent between January and when the level 4 lockdown started because many contractors lost their jobs.

However, he said they had been planning for the last two weeks how to get the remaining workforce back into action once level 3 was reached.

"Things like reducing the number of people in transport, so increasing the number of vehicles that would go to a work site perhaps… making available the hand sanitisers, the washing of hands, working a little more in isolation."

Forest Owners Association president Phil Taylor said workers were ready to start immediately.

"If the government makes an announcement on the 20th [April], we will start mobilising all our resources… opening up the supply chain which has been somewhat congested as a result of the very short notice for the closedown," Taylor said.

"So, we should be able to get operating very quickly… within 24 hours I would imagine."

The construction industry was also looking forward to getting back to business.

Infracom chairperson Alan Bollard said a return to work on infrastructure would be an important part of New Zealand's economic revitalisation.

"It's important because it's a big industry, big employment and it just stopped dead," Bollard said.

"The longer the lockdown goes on there, the more damage there will be. So we expect quite a bit of activity getting into these sites."

The rules for level 3 have been outlined to give businesses a chance to prepare for if and when the announcement comes.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described it as "cautiously opening the economy" but maintained the best economic policy was still to defeat the virus, which meant movement would still be heavily restricted.

The initial four-week lockdown period ends on Wednesday night.

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