Coronavirus: New alert level 2 rules likely to be different than previous - business expert

The alert level 2 restrictions revealed on Thursday may be different to those New Zealand was previously under back in March, a business expert has suggested.

New Zealand was under alert level 2 for two days following the announcement of the alert level framework in mid-March. Currently, the framework allows for more businesses to operate, greater socialising between people, and for larger gatherings as long as health and safety measures are in place. 

"Most businesses open, and business premises can be open for staff and customers with appropriate measures in place. Alternative ways of working are encouraged, such as remote working, shift-based working, physical distancing, staggering meal breaks, flexible leave," the COVID-19 website says in regards to businesses.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will announce the exact rules for this phase at 1pm on Thursday. However, no decision has yet been made as to when we will move to alert level 2. Ardern and her Cabinet will decide on Monday whether to lift or extend our current restrictions. 

Under alert level 3, businesses can only operate if they can do so with adequate physical distancing and with limited face-to-face interaction with customers. It means many - particularly in retail and hospitality - are not yet able to trade unless they have a delivery service. 

University of Otago Associate Professor Sara Walton specialises in sustainability and business and told Newshub the sector is raring to go, but she expects a different sort of level 2 to what we experienced in March.  

"I am thinking that level 2 is going to be slightly different to the past level 2. As we have come out, it's different to how we have gone in, in terms of going into complete lockdown," she said.

"The sector is really looking forward to getting back to work and getting the economy going again, but that's got to be balanced with our health concerns around contract tracing and knowing who is coming into organisations, who is coming and going, and being able to adhere to all the health and safety."

Prior to the lockdown, the Government issued guidelines for the hospitality industry requiring establishments to have customers sign in when they visit as well as for no more than 100 people to be on a premise. Rules similar to this may be imposed on retail businesses going forward.

"I feel the Government is going to put some limits on numbers in some ways and I think maybe some people who still can work from home will still be working from home," Walton said.

"We have got to get our economy back up and going as much as we can do in this situation. That has to be managed. Businesses are going to have to think about how we get people in and out of businesses, who is coming in, who's going and just making sure that we are trying to keep as much physical distancing as we are able to still under these conditions."

These sort of measures which assist with contact tracing will be instrumental going forward in very quickly identifying and isolating people exposed to confirmed cases. The speed in which that can occur will help New Zealand's efforts to stop another outbreak of cases. 

Walton said organisations are likely to take what they have learnt during the lockdown and apply it going forward. For example, we're likely to see more remote working now that people have seen that technology, like Zoom, can work. Every sector will be different, however.

"The next normal for tourism is going to be quite different to the next normal for takeaways. We are seeing, in terms of some of the different practices, which is my area, will be around some of the sensible working and working from home. We have seen that these things can work."

The University of Otago has just launched a survey to understand how Kiwis have adjusted to working from home, what challenges they have faced, and how it has affected productivity.

"We want to gather data on employees' experiences of remote working in these unprecedented times, and to understand how they want this to influence future working from home opportunities given by their organisations," Dr Paula O’Kane from the university's Business School said.

"We want to influence the way people work in the future and use their voice to do this, the comparative aspect is fantastic and can allow us to see how different responses to COVID-19 can influence people's attitudes."

The survey is being run with academics in Ireland, who have already had 7000 responses.

More information about the survey can be found here.