8 Apr 2020

Epidemic Response Committee faces more focus on essential business

7:50 pm on 8 April 2020

Business leaders are scrutinising the government's decision to only let essential businesses and those with essential goods operate.

The Epidemic Response Committee holding its first public meeting.

The Epidemic Response Committee during its first public meeting. Photo: Facebook/New Zealand Parliament

They presented to Parliament's Epidemic Response Committee this morning.

Former Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly told the committee the government needed to urgently introduce measures to boost small businesses' cash-flow.

O'Reilly said the biggest killer of small and medium size businesses was cash flow.

"I note in Australia for example, there are instant cash injections into each businesses of between $20,000 and $100,000 very simply administered to give those small and medium businesses a bit o cash to run on with.

"I think urgently we should do something similar because over the next two weeks we may see more small business collapses as they simply run out of cash to run their businesses."

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He said while the wage subsidy was welcomed, it would only delay business collapse.

O'Reilly also wanted a rethink of essential businesses and instead let businesses operate if they can comply to good public heath standards.

He said the decision on butchers and bakeries offering online services was a step in the right direction, but it was still confusing.

"We should all learn a lesson from that confusion and be much clearer about what can and cannot be done as we move eventually into a level three or level two situation, whenever that may happen.

"That lack of clarity is one of the biggest issues that businesses have been talking to me about in the last few days."

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Meanwhile, the Road Transport Forum's Nick Leggit said fewer than 50 percent of trucks were on the road.

"The ones that are, are travelling longer distances and are often not carrying as much freight as usual, due to not being able to back load with non-essential freight and that's often is the bit that makes the difference for transport companies."

Leggit said that meant while those companies were still operating, they may in fact be operating at a loss while still paying their staff.

Questions of businesses reopening early

National Party leader Simon Bridges was in support of some businesses operating earlier.

"Of course we need to make sure the lockdown works, but if they can satisfy the government that the risks are accounted for, whether that is restaurateurs with an online delivery businesses, I think we should be starting to look really closely at how we will allow that to happen," he said.

Bridges said if there is not much of an economy post-lock down, there will be a whole raft of health problems such as mental health or heart attacks to deal with.

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said even at alert level three not all businesses will be able to operate.

"We are working up based on our level four experience some really thorough guidance around our expectations around level three."

But in the meantime Ardern said regardless of which fields businesses are operating in, they can start planning about social distancing and contact tracing.

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