Coronavirus: Alert level 3 guidelines 'sensible', 'good news' for business - industry leaders

The Government has released broad information on what a shift to alert levels 3 and below might look like for New Zealanders, including what might change for businesses.

Commenting on Thursday's briefing, leaders from Business NZ and Retail NZ say that the Government is taking a "sensible approach" to how the country would move from level 4 to level 3, from 'essential businesses' only to 'safe operations' only.

Thursday's briefing comes ahead of a decision due on Monday on whether level 4 lockdown will be lifted, allowing time to prepare if the alert level changes.

Referring to alert level 3 as "the recovery room", Prime Minister Jacinda Adern said that the key principle is to restrict contact as much as possible.  People would be required to stick to their bubble, which can be expanded by a small amount if needed.

For businesses, level 3 would mean moving from "essential" businesses only to "safe" operations only.

"At level 3, we cautiously start opening up our economy, albeit with significant mitigations," Adern said.

"We still want to reduce contact with one another: you must work from home if you can." 

Under alert level 3, industries such as forestry, manufacturing and construction can return to work providing health and safety rules are applied. Similarly, workers going into peoples' homes, such as furniture removers, electricians and plumbers could also return, on the basis that distancing is maintained.

Food delivery, drive-thru and click and collect services can open, but many businesses will be unable to operate in their usual way, because contact risks remain too large.

"Public-facing bars, restaurants and cafes remain closed, and so do malls and retail stores," Adern said.  

"The key principle is, you cannot engage in face-to-face transactions: use your phone, computer, car or an app."

Summing up the changes, Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope said that the indications were clear for businesses in moving from essential to safe, and that it uses the existing health and safety in the workplace framework (Health and Safety at Work Act) to manage COVID-19.

Some businesses wouldn't be able to open for a while, including those with high volumes of shoppers or where it's difficult to manage social distancing.

"The key thing for any business to remain open is to be able to demonstrate to employees that they're operating in a safe environment [and] to make sure they've got a strong plan in place so that they know what they're doing [when] talking to customers, suppliers and employees and managing their supply chains," Hope said.

He said that the Government is taking "quite a sensible approach". It's not recreating the wheel and there's no confusion around what an 'essential business' is.

"It's simply, can you operate a safe workplace under [COVID-19] conditions. 

"It's really building on an existing set of standards: every workplace has to have a plan already and this is an addendum to their plan."

Greg Harford, chief executive of Retail New Zealand, said that what was presented for level 3 represents "some really good news".

"Click and collect services and online shopping will be allowed, provided that can be done safely."

He said that as retail is focused on domestic consumption, the sector is well-positioned to kick-start the economy.

"The more that is allowed for retailers, the better it's going to be for the economy overall."

Harford said that there are questions about some of the rules, particularly where businesses and activities are permitted as long as they're safe.

"[The questions] are particularly around things like small grocery stores that aren't convenience stores [or] supermarkets but provide a valuable role in providing food to people and take pressure of supermarkets," Harford added.

In her closing comments, Jacinda Adern suggested that all workplaces start to work on a plan for how they're managing risks and protecting workers and customers under alert level 3.

"These need to be made available at a worksite so staff can see what steps their employer is taking," she said.

Under alert level 3, businesses are expected to maintain hygiene, cleaning regimes and social distancing. Government figures estimate that there are around 500,000 New Zealanders in essential work - that number is expected to roughly double if the alert level moves from 4 to 3.

Details of an accreditation regime and assistance with worksafe plans will be provided through The Ministry of Business, Innovation and  Employment (MBIE) in the coming week.