Ten percent of New Zealand's population could be facing unemployment following the country's COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown, with local businesses facing a precarious and uncertain future.
NZ Business CEO Kirk Hope painted the grim picture to The AM Show on Tuesday morning.
"Even as we get back to zero, life won't be the same for some considerable time," Hope said. "We've got to get on top of the public health issue, that's our best chance to recover."
Despite $5.3 billion being paid out to more than 850,000 New Zealanders via the Government's wage subsidy scheme, Hope says the precarity and uncertainty of the situation means it's unlikely local businesses will be able to pick up where they left off.
"I guess the question is how long we will stay in Level 4 for and then what Level 3 means. What we're working with the Government on is trying to get clarity around what businesses can and can't do under Level 3, because we only had a very short period in Level 3 as we moved into the lockdown," Hope explained.
"Businesses will need clarity about what they can and can't do and what the rules are."
Hope says the Ministry of Innovation, Business and Employment (MBIE) has been working hard to provide clarity to local businesses who are unsure whether they can be considered essential during lockdown.
He believes the rapid move from Alert Level 3 to Level 4 caused confusion for businesses, with many forced to shut up shop virtually overnight.
"I'm not sure if there was enough time to properly consider the rules and ensure there was enough clarity around essential services, [that was] a grey area... we've been working hard with the MBIE and they have been as responsive as they can be.
"For the next stages, businesses will want clarity over what they can and can't do, because many are ready to get back into business."
Hope says if local businesses could move online and implement a COVID-safe supply and delivery chain, many could continue to "survive and thrive". Under lockdown protocol, only a handful of companies have been given the all-clear to sell essential products online, including heaters, bedding and appliances, such as The Warehouse and Noel Leeming. Yet online businesses overseas who specialise in non-essential goods are permitted to continue sending products into New Zealand.
"If you could do stuff safely under Level 3 or even under Level 4, where they explore more online stuff, that would be an option... the challenge is they aren't able to compete at all, and online providers offshore are still sending goods to NZ. We have to sort that out," he said.
The AM Show host Duncan Garner expressed his frustration that foreign businesses are able to flourish, while local companies supplying the same or similar goods have been forced to shut up shop.
"We're putting overseas interests first... I think that's appalling," Garner said.
Hope agreed, saying it's imperative local businesses receive clarity over "what they can and can't do online".
"In some industries it will take a long time to recover. We are looking at upwards of 7 to 8 percent, maybe 10 percent unemployment. That is a significant change from what we've known... things will be quite different and it will be very challenging."