Wellington CBD cafes desperate for government workers to return to the office

The message was 'stay home, save lives' under lockdown - now it's 'go back to work, save businesses'.

At least that's what some Wellington cafes and restaurants are calling for, as thousands of public servants stick with working from home.

At lunchtime on Wednesday at CBD sushi joint Yoshi, only a third of its pre-coronavirus lunchtime crowd was there and sales were down 70 percent.

Owner Helen Kono says a critical group of customers was missing. 

"Our store on Lambton Quay is obviously right in the hub of all of the government offices and all that, and we have noticed we have been hit hard," she told Newshub.

It's the same for Mojo; owner Katy Ellis has noticed spending's been slow for some of its 26 cafes - particularly those in areas where government departments are situated.

Public servants are critical to the CBD's economy, and their absence is being felt.

Spending in the capital was down 30 percent in the week leading up to Queen's Birthday.  

"Around about 27,000 workers are in the public administration and safety sector alone," Infometrics economist Brad Olsen said - and many of them have been working from home during level 2.

Of Inland Revenue's 2200 office-based staff, only 214 are back at their desks, while the Ministry of Justice - which usually has 1000 in the office - currently has just 400.

The Transport Ministry's normal office numbers are also down to 105 from their normal 169 - and while the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Tourism usually has 800 workers in its Wellington office, only half are at work.

"That's a huge amount of coffees and lunches that aren't being purchased," Olsen said.

Government departments Newshub spoke to could not say how many staff would be back under alert level 1, but will still offer flexible working-from-home arrangements. 

That means businesses in the CBD may continue to feel the pinch.

"Government workers, we need you guys back," Yoshi owner Kono urged.

Back, and spending cash.