Coronavirus: Piles of meat to be given away, thrown out after butchers told they're not an 'essential business'

Piles of meat could be heading to the tip after butchers were told last minute they wouldn't be able to open on Thursday - New Zealand's first day of COVID-19 lockdown.

The list of essential businesses was confirmed late on Wednesday leaving many caught out and still confused. 

Mike Hanson of Netherby Meats had stocked up for the lockdown but instead of it being sold to customers, it will now have to be given away or thrown out.

"In the back chiller - we've probably got four or five beasts for the shop and 30 hoggets to put somewhere, and the freezer is not big enough to store all of this," he told Newshub.

On Wednesday morning, Hanson was given the green light to open as an "essential business" from both his local MP and Retail Meat New Zealand. Hours later, the Government ruled otherwise.

"I don't know if I'm open or closed or closed or open," Hanson said. "[I'm] just really quite confused and sad about the whole situation."

Right next door to his butcher, a dairy is open for business as usual. 

"They're selling smokes and coke and fizzy drinks - and what are they doing open?"

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday if the Government allowed every food outlet to open, "we wouldn't achieve what we need to achieve".

Butchers do, however, have the support of the National Party who think this rule does require a rethink.

"If there is a greengrocer beside a dairy, or a butcher beside a dairy, they can't open," National MP Todd McClay said. "That doesn't really make a lot of sense."

The Prime Minister says in small-town areas, where there are no supermarkets, special considerations have been made but the basic principle remains; essential services, nothing else. 

And the Government is watching stores closely to ensure prices aren't being hiked.