Coronavirus: Retail could see tens of thousands of job losses in COVID-19 fallout

Tens of thousands of jobs could be lost in the retail sector as companies struggle to survive amid the COVID-19 lockdown.

Business groups are lamenting the fact that shops won't be allowed to operate as usual when the country shifts to alert level 3 next week.

The Government announced on Monday that the country's level-4 lockdown would be extended until 11:59pm next Monday, when it would be downgraded to level 3 for two weeks.

Currently, only essential businesses are allower to operate, but at the lower alert level any business deemed "safe" will be allowed to reopen - provided all face-to-face contact is avoided.

Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope says companies are really feeling the pinch after shutting up shop for a month.

"Every day matters, particularly for small to medium-sized enterprises," Hope told The AM Show on Tuesday.

He said many companies were already set to buckle under the financial stress caused by the lockdown, though some may choose to temporarily close until the economy recovers.

"Clearly there's going to be a whole lot of businesses that decide not to carry on because the costs of waiting around for another three weeks or three months is going to be too much for them and they simply can't afford to do that, it'll probably burn through a lot of their capital," he said

"So it's better for them to shut up and wait for demand and then get back into it."

Greg Harford, chief executive of Retail NZ said around 7000 jobs have already been lost in the retail sector, and there is a risk that number may rise even higher if businesses continue to fold.

"There's certainly real risks to a number of businesses in the retail sector at the moment," Harford told The AM Show.

"The sector is really, really hurting." 

He estimated that the total number of job losses "could easily be up to the several tens of thousands".

Hope said it was crucial that the Government steps in to prop up struggling businesses across all sectors.

"I think the Government will really need to come out and supplement the support package that they've already provided with some more direct support - whether that be interest-free loans or direct grants to particularly small businesses who are going to be struggling," he said.

Both Hope and Harford stressed the importance of small and medium-sized businesses surviving. 

"We need them actually, because they provide jobs, they support livelihoods for other people with those jobs - so they're critical to our economy so we want to support them as much as possible during this next period and if that's not possible then we need to create the conditions - or the Government has to create the conditions - to enable them to be entrepreneurial and do what they do," said Harford.

The Government has already poured in billion of dollars to supporting businesses. In announcing the extension to the lockdown on Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the country had already sacrificed too much to risk losing those gains by ending the lockdown earlier.