Coronavirus: Essential business clarification welcomed, but questions remain - Retail NZ

While the Government has provided clarification around what is an "essential business" during the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, Retail NZ says questions remain for some. 

As of 11:59pm on Wednesday, New Zealand will increase to alert level 4, meaning all non-essential businesses must close as New Zealanders are instructed to stay at home and limit exposure to the potentially deadly coronavirus COVID-19. There are currently 155 confirmed and probable cases in Aotearoa.

However, following the Monday decision to increase our alert level, many questioned what was an essential business. While authorities have been very clear that supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations and utilities would continue to operate, other stores like The Warehouse, Bunnings and dairies were confused. 

On Tuesday night, in an effort to provide some clarity, the Government released an updated list of essential business, including specifically instructing some stores, like The Warehouse, to close. 

Greg Harford, chief executive of Retail NZ, welcomed the new information.

"We got some good clarity last night out of the Government, which is really good. Gives everyone a bit of certainty," he told The AM Show on Wednesday morning.

However, he said some businesses were still not sure and were urgently wanting more information from authorities. 

"There are still some grey areas that we are urgently trying to get some clarification on from Government. That is around things like speciality food stores, bulk food stores, greengrocers, butchers, bakers, those stores that are part of the food supply chain, provide essential services to New Zealanders and which can help spread the load, which is otherwise going to be put on supermarkets," he said.

"Everyone in the retail sector wants to do the right thing, there are just questions about what that right thing is."

Baking Industry Association of New Zealand said on Tuesday it had received advice which said bakeries were essential services. 

According to the website, a business that is essential to the "provision of the necessities of life may remain open" and if a business is unsure if that applies to them, it should shut.

The list of essential businesses will be regularly updated, but currently defines essential "fast-moving consumer goods" as "any entity involved in the supply, delivery, distribution of food, beverage, and other key consumer goods essential for maintaining the wellbeing of people".

One of the clarifications made on Tuesday was that food delivery services would be prohibited, except for meals-on-wheels and whole-food delivery, such as subscription food boxes.

"There are lots of New Zealanders who are heavily reliant on UberEats and similar services for provision of food. I think the advice that came out of Government last night… is that those sort of services can help spread the infection," Harford told The AM Show.

In a statement, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment deputy chief executive Paul Stocks said food delivery services like UberEats and Deliver Easy "pose a risk to human health".

"We cannot guarantee every kitchen operates strict food preparation controls or that everyone who works in a kitchen is well. Evidence overseas suggests the virus has been spread via poor food hygiene practices, so it’s a real risk we have to eliminate."

Full information and the list of essential businesses can be found here

The latest set of clarifications are:

  • Dairies can remain open, with a one-in-one-out rule, and cannot sell cooked food.

  • Food delivery is prohibited, except meals-on-wheels and whole food delivery (eg subscription food boxes).

  • Every restaurant, café and bar must close all aspects of their operation.

  • Liquor stores must close, unless they are within Licensing Trust areas (in which case they can operate with a one-in-one-out rule).

  • Self-service laundries can stay open, with two meter physical distancing to be enforced.

  • Retirement villages are included as an essential service.

  • The Warehouse must close.

  • Bunnings, Placemakers, Mitre 10 and other retailers essential to the supply chain for building and construction can stay open to trade customers for essential purposes only.

  • The Tiwai Point smelter is exempt from closure.

  • NZ Steel is to shut down in a way that allows for production to recommence easily.

  • Pulp and paper plants are to shut down their non-essential elements in a way that allows for production to recommence easily, and while maintaining essential production.

  • Methanex can remain in production, but at a scale consistent with the stability of gas supply.