Coronavirus: COVID-19 and CRL 'nail in the coffin' for central Auckland businesses

Around a third of City Rail Link-affected businesses in central Auckland say they're likely to shut-up-shop following the latest COVID-19 restrictions.

Albert St shops have been fighting for financial aid due to the CRL construction for years. 

Spokesperson Sunny Kaushal, who owns the street's Shakespeare Hotel, says the current level 3 restrictions will be "the final in the coffin".

"These businesses have been struggling for a very, very long time... Many of them probably will not reopen."

Auckland jumped from level 1 to level 3 on August 12 after a new cluster of COVID-19 cases were recorded in the city, the first community transmission of the deadly disease detected nationwide in more than 100 days.

Under level 3 essential services can remain open, while other shops can continue to operate as long as there's no physical contact with customers and they're kept off the premises. 

Kaushal says the restrictions have pushed some Albert St businesses to breaking point.

"Since this lockdown started, 30 percent I know won't be reopening. Others are just sitting on the edge... Their mental health is affected, as you could imagine. There has been a lot of stress to keep their doors open, how to look after their families, and then the invoices, the bills." 

CRL Ltd has a business hardship programme, saying it understands "some businesses within the Albert St impact zone (between Victoria and Customs Streets intersections) have experienced a greater length of disruption than originally planned".

Work around Albert St was initially scheduled to end in 2019, but is now expected to be completed "towards the end of 2020", with work continuing under level 3.

Kaushal says he will keep fighting for more compensation.

Artist's impression of a station once the CRL is finished in 2024.
Artist's impression of a station once the CRL is finished in 2024. Photo credit: Supplied

Meanwhile, businesses elsewhere in the city are calling for a level 1.5, arguing that level 3 is too restrictive.

"People are a lot more educated than they were when they were first put in place," Takapuna Business Association chief executive Terence Harpur told Newshub.

"People are wearing masks all the time, people are really good at social distancing and businesses are fantastic at tracing." 

Harpur says the city cannot keep locking down every time there is a community case, as many retailers do not have the capability to work from home.

"We saw a 65 percent drop in spending during that week - it is really detrimental to business, these lockdowns, and there may be a better way of doing it."

Like Kaushal, he fears more businesses will go under if there are more lockdowns.

"A lot less people are in town centres and CBDs, which means they're not going out and getting lunch, they're not going and getting that new jumper. The business effects are actually huge for town centres, which rely on a worker population." 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson told Newshub Nation on Saturday the Government's "go hard and go early" strategy for clamping down on outbreaks is the best for the economy in the long-term.

"I've got a lot of sympathy for those businesses. What we also know though is our ability to get on top of any resurgence is the most important thing for then getting the economy going again. The reason we put this level of restriction on is so we can get back to business as quickly as possible."

His comments came after an Auckland Chamber of Commerce survey found one-in-five businesses said they wouldn't last another two-week lockdown under the existing level 3 restrictions.

Grant Robertson.
Grant Robertson. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

New Zealand's economy fared better than expected after the first lockdown ended, with economic activity back to near-normal levels and unemployment not rising, at least according to the official measure.

Many countries that took less restrictive measures to combat the pandemic have recorded bigger drops in GDP and higher rises in unemployment, including the US, UK and Sweden. 

National has suggested locking down smaller parts of the city next time there's an outbreak, rather than the entire area covered by Auckland Council, which includes many rural areas.

"I think we can be more sophisticated in where we could place the lockdown," health spokesperson Shane Reti told Newshub Nation.

"Just to take a council boundary and say 'that's where the lockdown is going to be' may not have served us as well as it could have."

The Government is expected to announce its next move on Monday.