Coronavirus: COVID-19 alert level 2 opens with major spending, but businesses cautious

Shopping mall Sylvia Park in Auckland during level 2.
Shopping mall Sylvia Park in Auckland during level 2. Photo credit: Matthew Theunissen / RNZ

By Matthew Theunissen of RNZ

The first few days of life under alert level 2 has started with a hiss and a roar for retailers, restaurants and cafes, but some business owners fear the spending splurge will be short lived as recession starts to bite.

Despite some initial confusion about the Covid-19 rules, shops are reporting a much-needed flurry of trade under the looser restrictions.

Auckland's Sylvia Park is the country's biggest mall and business owners told RNZ there has been an army of shaggy-haired shoppers desperate for some retail therapy.

Timberland manager Mel Garrity has been rushed off her feet.

"You should have been here yesterday, it was Bedlam," she said.

"Everybody's adjusting, everybody's trying to do the social distancing. I wouldn't say it's working completely, but everybody's trying."

Despite strong sales over the weekend, Garrity is worried about the future.

"We're doing okay today, but we're way behind on where we should be, but that's just the economy at the moment.

"I think everybody is going to now start getting wary about what they're spending and where their money's coming from. So we've had a good incline this time but I think next week we'll see the figures start dropping again."

Sam Miller and Hazel Estick from Barkers are more optimistic, saying business actually seems better now than in the period leading up to the full lockdown.

"Before lockdown started everyone was a bit cautious about coming into malls," Miller said.

"And Barkers has been trying to reassure our customers and making sure we've got our hand sanitisers and we wipe everything down ... just to be safe."

David Rose from Trade Aid said opening the doors under level 2 had been a steep learning curve.

"We've been trying to wipe down the counter and Eftpos machine each time it's used - sometimes it's payWave so great, you can avoid that one. And make sure you do the keys and the mouse," he said.

Will Taylor, duty manager at the restaurant Mexico, said he's had to grapple with making sure all customers' details are logged and ensure there's two metres of space between tables.

"Due to the fact we can only fit in half the amount of people as usual we've taken the hit, but we're still maxing out every night," he said.

"So it's been ... at a level we'd probably hoped for. It's nice to see people returning and lots of the people that we've seen come in have been regulars from before lockdown so they're sticking with us."

Businesses will find out next week if the government will further ease level 2 restrictions.