Auckland Business Chamber predicts tough times even after companies reopen

The Auckland Business Chamber says shops and companies will need more than just two days to prepare to reopen if the Government announces on Monday that the nationwide lockdown will end later this week.

Since late March, only essential businesses have been allowed to operate, placing an enormous amount of pressure on companies that have had to shut up shop for a month.

Michael Barnett, chief executive of the Auckland Business Chamber, says deciding when to drop the alert level and allow more businesses to open is a "thorny question for leaders" who must weigh the trade off between the risks to public health and the economic damage the lockdown is inflicted on the country. 

"We do know that the longer we stop [there's] minimal deaths, but we also know that the longer we shut down business the harder that it is going to be to start," Barnett told The AM Show on Monday. 

The economic effect of putting off reopening businesses would have a long and severe impact, he said.

"The longer we're not operating and people don't earn, the greater the likelihood of failure - and it's failure of businesses and it's a massive increase of unemployment."

Although many businesses were "prepared to run the course" and weather the four-week lockdown, most believed that it was vitally important that they were given fair warning about when the restrictions would be eased as well as ample time to make necessary preparations to reopen, Barnett said.

"They need to have notice, they need to be able to put in place steps to ensure that people are going to be safe, to ensure that they can pick up anything that's going to be sickness [related], or anything that's going to be bad health-wise in their workplaces - and you're not going to be able to do that in two days," he said.

"So don't just say 'go back' - give us an environment where we can be ensured that we're going to succeed, because nobody wants to go back to [level] 4."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced in late May the country would go into lockdown for "at least" four weeks. That time period is set to expire on Thursday, with the Government last week saying a decision on whether or not it will be extended will be made on Monday.

The most probable scenario when a change comes is that the country will drop down a level to level 3, meaning businesses that are "safe" can also open. That means although retail stores and shopping centres must remain closed to the public, click-and-collect online shopping can begin again, and restaurants can begin selling food provided customers don't enter to collect their meals. The key principle is that all business must be done without face-to-face transactions.

Construction companies will also be allowed to open, but strict health and hygiene measures must be put in place.

Barnett says he believes roughly two-thirds of the economy could be restarted at level 3. 

With unemployment rising and consumer confidence low, however, it will take more than just allowing more businesses to operate to kickstart the economy.

"This is not going to be a fast process and many of those who have been our clients and our supporters in the past aren't going to have the buying power to reenter the economy," Barnett said. "We're going to need to be patient, and I'm telling you now - there's no quick fix for this."

Even businesses that can reopen at level 3 will still struggle after having to shut down for a month, with many lacking the reserves to survive the economic downturn, he said.

"I think that's the naivety of believing that we'll just be able to be able to turn back on the car and it'll start again - it won't."