Coronavirus: Auckland retailers excited, but anxious, to reopen ahead of Christmas

By Kate Gregan for RNZ

After nearly three months in lockdown, Auckland business owners are breathing a sigh of relief.

Cabinet has decided in principle to move the Super City to alert level 3 step 2 at 11:59pm next Tuesday.

It means shops, museums and libraries can reopen with mask-wearing and social distancing, and the outdoor gathering limit will be increased to 25.

Ponsonby's Shellshock Jewellery owner Merete Molving said she was over the moon with the decision.

"Absolutely thrilled. Can't wait. I think that we've done really well Auckland, but can't wait to get back into business," she said.

At step 2, customers must keep two metres apart, and staff and customers are required to wear face coverings.

Molving said that brings some anxiety, but she trusts customers to use sense.

"I'm a little bit worried about managing it, a little bit fearful about approaching people if they get too close, but I think most people actually know the rules, and I think people are going to naturally respect them," she said.

If people see the shop was really full, would-be customers would steer clear, she said.

"We might have to extend trading hours in the lead up to Christmas to allow people to come into a less busy retail environment."

The Government announcement has caused mixed emotions for the owner of Chambers Linen & Gifts, Erin Santoro.

Santoro said she felt excited to welcome customers back, but was equally nervous to operate as community cases of COVID-19 continue to rise.

"It's really hard from a retail perspective to know whether we're going to get hit and it's going to go crazy and we're going to be emptied out, or, are people going to be cautious and wait? We just don't know what we're in for," she said.

She said they would install a Perspex screen to separate customers from cashiers, and they would cut services like gift wrapping.

Santoro said she still had some reservations about how to enforce the new rules.

"It's kind of hard - we're a small business, so we ran with a small team. We can't afford to put an extra person on to stand by the door and manage exactly who's coming in and out," she said.

"We're just going to have to do the best we can."

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said he welcomed the announcement that the city would move to step 2.

"The Government has the difficult task of balancing the need to contain the spread of COVID-19 to avoid it overwhelming our hospital system with the need to retain continuing public compliance with restrictions," Goff said.

"It is also mindful of the impact of the ongoing lockdown on jobs, businesses and overall well-being," he said.

"By next Tuesday, over 90 percent of eligible people in all three of Auckland's district health boards will likely have had their first vaccination, and fully vaccinated people have already reached 80 percent in Auckland."

Goff said it was still "critically important" for people to follow protocols and rules that were designed to keep them safe and contain the spread of the virus.