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Govt asked to provide more financial support to businesses

The New Zealand Government is encouraged to consider handing more financial support to businesses as the country transitions from the COVID-19 Alert Level 4 to Level 3.

The Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce said moving to Alert Level 3 will enable more economic activity, but it does not allow more social activity, which will continue to have a significant impact on some businesses, particularly those in retail and hospitality.

“Given the ongoing financial impact this will have on those sectors, it will be important for the Government to consider levels of financial support during this period,” said Leeann Watson, Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce chief executive.

Watson said the slightly longer period of being in Alert Level 4 than anticipated gives businesses more time to prepare to a return to operations in a way that meets health and safety requirements while taking into account some of the complexities, such as continuing to operate remotely and juggling childcare before moving to Alert Level 3 next week.

John Milford, Wellington Chamber of Commerce and Business Central chief executive, said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement to move to Alert Level 3 starting April 28 is welcome news for many businesses.  

“While this means extending the current lockdown until after the ANZAC weekend, it allows businesses to return to undertake preparations, giving them time to reopen and better understand the level three requirements,” Milford said.

Milford said, however, that while the announcement was good news, further clarity is needed about aspects of the new rules.

“We expect the Government to provide more detailed information for individual sectors urgently,” he said.

Milford also reminded business operators, owners and employers to stick to the Level 4 rules around social distancing, and health and safety guidelines.

“The week’s notice is not an excuse to begin flouting the rules when we have all worked so hard to restrict the spread of the virus,” he said.

“We don’t want to lose the gains we have made and have to return to Level 4 restrictions again. It is incredibly important we maintain distances and only enter premises if absolutely necessary.”

After the Prime Minister’s announcement, retail marketing consultant Sarah Dunn said online retail sales have seen an immediate lift indicating that competition in the market is essential particularly from smaller, more dynamic retailers who are able to offer a wide array of products.

“Consumers right now are shopping with only a very few large businesses, with many feeling frustrated and financially vulnerable,” Dunn said. “As a result, we are seeing a retail climate with more sensitised shoppers on the lookout for price gouging – which can be an additional challenge for businesses to navigate.”

Dunn said when small businesses re-enter the game, they’ll reduce this tension between shoppers and retailers by increasing consumer choice, rebalancing the market and rebuilding that trust element.

“What remains to be seen is the long term impact of permanent business closures on the level of competition in the market,” she said.

Online mattress retailer Ecosa spokesperson Emma Edwards said there was a noticeable jump in purchases on Friday when the Government signalled the pending change in lockdown status and again yesterday, with Tuesday confirmed as the transition date for many businesses. 

“Despite being an online-only retailer, selling products which were deemed essential such as sheets and blankets and having a warehouse distribution model that met all required hygiene and social distancing standards, our company has been closed up until now as the owner does not have a New Zealand passport – which was necessary for MBIE approval,” Edwards said. 

“This has been an incredibly frustrating time for businesses like ours during Level 4 as the site traffic has been up significantly but we haven’t been able to convert the sales due to the uncertainty around delivery times.”

Edwards said they are grateful to be able to resume trading, particularly in an environment where many businesses remain closed. 

The Prime Minister said yesterday with the cooperation of the public, the country was able to control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

“On that basis, New Zealand will move out of Alert Level 4 lockdown at 11.59pm on Monday April 27, one week from today,” Ardern said. “We will then hold in Alert Level 3 for two weeks, before reviewing how we are tracking again, and making further decisions at Cabinet on the 11th of May.”

She added that the Government considered that the longer they are in lockdown, the less likely it is they will need to go back.

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