Covid-19

Lockdown in the ‘land of plenty’

It's the last day of trading for almost every business today. Now what?

New Zealanders have till 11.59pm Wednesday to get where they need to self-isolate and stay there. 

All non-essential businesses were ordered to close after the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday afternoon. Tomorrow restaurants and cafes will be shut.

Level 3 will turn into Level 4 at 11.59pm on Wednesday. That will shut down food takeaway services and lock people down for four weeks.

For hospitality businesses, that meant shutting down stores they didn't know if they'd be able to come back to once all of this ended, Hospitality NZ President Jeremy Smith said.

"In hospitality, first priority is obviously securing the business. Making sure floats and money in the business is banked [and] that essential services are cancelled," Smith said.

"That fridges and perishables are taken off-site. That stock that could be stolen is locked away. Fridges cleaned. Bars cleaned, so that when we can re-open it's in a good position to re-open," he said.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced the $150,000 cap on the wage subsidies businesses might be eligible for would be removed altogether. 

Smith said that would save a lot of the bigger hotel chains, but there would still be redundancies. 

"If that's all there is, that's all there is," Smith said.

"There are going to be companies that are going to have to look at redundancies. There'll be situations where staff might resign and go on the benefit," he said.

Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope believed even Robertson's revised package could be expanded further. 

"The Government has tended to be very clear that it will be an iterative set of steps from a financial and economic perspective and that if they have to do more, they will do more," Hope said.

"They've got capacity. Not only does the Government have borrowing capacity but the Reserve Bank just [announced] $30 billion worth of bonds," he said.

"That's $30 billion worth of cash that's now sitting with the Government."

For those outside the business community, the concern will be getting back to their homes before the country goes into full lockdown. 

After the lockdown, people not performing essential services would only be allowed outside for short walks with others they were self-isolating with.

People could use public transport, but only to visit the supermarket. 

A statement from Air New Zealand said the airline was working to increase capacity along its routes and try to maintain its flight schedule this week.

“This will allow New Zealanders seeking to return home to do so prior to the country moving to alert Level 4,” the statement said. 

The airline couldn’t provide any details on how many extra aircraft would be needed to make this happen.  

Annabel Young, executive director of the New Zealand Shipping Federation, said ferries were an option for those students wanting to get back to the North Island. 

"If they can get to Picton by Wednesday night, they can get home," Young said.

'The list'

Federated Farmers chief executive Katie Milne said she had been hustling all day to find out whether categories important to agriculture had made it onto "the list". By that, she meant a list of essential services. Private and public enterprises that will be allowed to keep operating despite the lockdown. 

"This whole afternoon has been a nightmare for a lot of people actually, 'Am I in or am I out?, which makes this bloody hard," Milne said. 

"We'll get it clarified and we'll all know what we're doing," she said. 

Agriculture was an essential industry and protected on the essential skills list. However, some of the industries needed to support agriculture weren't mentioned in the list. 

John Nicholson, chief executive of Aviation New Zealand, pointed out that agricultural aviation was one of those not on the list.

If New Zealand wanted to continue to export good quality produce next season, it would need to continue aerial spraying of land, he said.

"Normally coming out of a drought, you'd put a bit more effort into building up the land again," Nicholson said.

"And if you don't, then that impacts on your productive capacity 12 months out," he said.

At a press conference on Monday afternoon, All Of Government Controller John Ombler hinted it was a work in progress when he said the list was not prescriptive. 

"It can, and will be reviewed," Ombler said.

"I make a point though, that if people are looking for a lot of exemptions, that undermines the intent of this, which is to stop people mixing and contacting other people as far as we possibly can," he said.

At the press conference, Ombler further reassured the country there would be more than enough essential supplies to keep the country's supermarket shelves stocked.

Nicholson said if those supplies had to be brought into the country, they would likely come in via ship rather than air freight. Air freight would mainly be needed for time-sensitive exports such as seafood, he said.

Young said the shipping industry would continue as normal, but there were a lot more precautions being taken in light of Covid-19.

"My guys are all essential services. They've been told not to try to distinguish between priority products and non-priority products," Young said.

"Just to keep the transport system going is what they've been told to do," she said

Milne said New Zealand was the "land of plenty" when it came to food within its borders too.

"It's a natural human reaction for people to have freaked out and done the panic buying, but really New Zealand has got plenty of food," Milne said.

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