16 Sep 2021

Covid-19 lockdown: Auckland businesses question how 'essential' is defined

10:42 am on 16 September 2021

The issue of which businesses are and aren't essential during Auckland's level 4 lockdown has some businesses frustrated and disheartened as their finances continue to dwindle.

Central Auckland at midday on the first day of the August 2021 lockdown.

A deserted Auckland on the first day of the current lockdown on 17 August. Photo: RNZ / Robert Smith

If all goes well and Covid-19 case numbers continue to drop, the government has announced Auckland could move to alert level 3 as early as Tuesday.

Until then non-essential businesses around the city are sitting tight and waiting for the storm to pass.

But the question of what constitutes an essential business is increasingly a grey area. Why, for example, can you get a box of donuts and a bottle of gin delivered to your house but not a book or a bunch of flowers?

Under current level 4 restrictions Time Out Bookstore in Mt Eden is not able to offer contactless delivery or click and collect, let alone in-store browsing.

And although customers can order online and wait until level 3 for their books to be dispatched, store manager Jenna Todd said it's not enough to keep the business going long term.

"Sales are very, very reduced from what they usually are. If I look at the four weeks before we went into lockdown, we would be sitting between 8 to 10 percent on those usual sales."

When it comes to whether they should be able to do deliveries during level 4, Todd said she is very torn on the issue.

"All we can do from Time Out's point of view is keep our staff in our community as safe as possible.

"Do books sit on the same level as food and medicine? No. Do they add a lot to your quality of life? Yes. Is it hard to watch other businesses sell things that may be similar or may be considered not essential? Yes. These are all these questions that we consistently ask ourselves.

"It's frustrating and that frustration just lingers as level 4 goes on longer. It's quite hard."

Jenna Todd from Time Out Books in Auckland

Jenna Todd from Time Out Books in Auckland operating under level 3 restrictions in April last year. Photo: RNZ / Matthew Theunissen

ACT Party leader and MP for Epsom David Seymour said the current way of determining what can and cannot operate under level 4 is illogical.

"We need to shift from defining arbitrarily what is essential to focusing on what can be done safely. The goal here is not to shut down businesses. The goal is to eliminate the transmission of Covid-19. If we had a focus on safety rather than essentiality, then I think we'd be in a much better space.

"Peaches and Cream, a store that sells novelty sex items, is allowed to do deliveries, but you're not allowed to send people flowers first because flower delivery has been banned ... even if it could be done safely."

He has been in contact with several businesses in Epsom which are struggling to stay afloat.

"People are beside themselves. They're very frustrated. They're telling me how much cash they are burning each week."

Owner of Paradox Books in Devonport, Auckland, Terrie Gray said it's frustrating to see other businesses operate under level 4 while they are not allowed to trade at all.

"It's a bit hard to swallow ... when I walk five minutes to my book shop, I walk past two open liquor stores and I can't open, it's difficult to take."

Under alert level 4 flower growers cannot sell or distribute their goods, meaning the beautiful blooms that took them months to produce are going straight into the bin.

This week growers sent over 3000 bunches of flowers to Parliament to protest what they see as arbitrary rules on who can and can't do deliveries.

Hill Road Blooms owner Jacqui Whelan helped coordinate the protest and is chuffed with how it went.

"Auckland growers are just at breaking point. It's so hard seeing all their product that was planted months and months ago and they are having to go in and harvest it and it's going straight in the compost.

"We're not trying to say flowers are essential because they're not an essential product. However, we do believe that they are fantastic for mental health. Especially for people who are stuck at home under level 4 lockdown.

"We've got our fingers crossed tightly that Mr [Director-General of Health Dr Ashley] Bloomfield himself, who I did just receive an email from to say thank you for his bouquet yesterday is going to consider our request and fingers crossed give us some safe working guidelines so level 4 is a little bit easier for the growers around the country."

bunch of flowers

More than 3000 bunches of flowers were sent to Parliament to protest what growers see as arbitrary rules on what can and can't be delivered (file picture). Photo: 123RF

Meanwhile, Jenna Todd from Time Out Bookstore said they are receiving great support, which is keeping them going during this tough time.

"We're also being supported by our landlords. The wage subsidy is incredibly helpful for us and it really helps our whole team get through because we just pretty much sit tight until we can get back in and we're so eager to get back into the shop and get all those books out."

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