Coronavirus: Businesses around the country glad to see Aucklanders back

Shops in the super city and around New Zealand are welcoming Aucklanders back, with the lifting of alert level 3 restrictions on Monday.

The country's largest city is now at level 2 - or 2.5, as the Prime Minister puts it - allowing retail stores to reopen their doors.

"It's good to be back, but it's going to be interesting to see how we manage," Auckland Chamber of Commerce boss Michael Barnett told The AM Show on Monday, saying there's still a lot of anxiety.

A recent survey of its members found a quarter would not survive another lockdown, and a third would consider restructuring to go more online and consequently hire fewer people. 

While the Government's multibillion-dollar wage subsidy has kept mass unemployment at bay, Barnett said there hadn't been the same level of support for business owners.

"If you look at the environment for an employee, the Government has guaranteed the employee is going to get paid, there's been a wage subsidy. It's sort of like me saying, 'I've got a new Audi, we're going to do a road trip to Wellington - I'll pay for the oil and water and you can pay for the petrol.' "You can see the huge cost in the petrol. 

"To me as a business owner, I'm looking there and saying yes, somebody else is meeting a part of the cost of the employees, but I've got my rent, insurance, rates - I've got all of those other costs, and those costs when you've got zero income is what's killing the business."

Barnett has been a loud advocate for reopening business, despite the continued community transmission of COVID-19 in Auckland. Thirteen new cases were reported over the weekend, putting experts on edge as to whether the city is ready.

The Government says with all the new cases being linked to the same cluster, transmission is not out of control - and should be kept in check by the reinforced 'level 2.5' restrictions. 

Michael Barnett.
Michael Barnett. Photo credit: The AM Show

Barnett agrees, saying the country has learned from the past lockdown what to do. Mayor Phil Goff agrees also, urging Aucklanders to apply that learning and stick to the rules.

"We want to get out of level 2.5 as quickly as possible. The best way to do that is to make sure that we follow the rules. We can put a good system in place, but if people don't follow the system then we don't make the progress that we need to. 

"I think complacency is the real enemy - we all need to do our bit to make sure that we can beat this and eliminate it once again. We've done it before and we can do it again - but sticking to the rules is the best way of achieving that."

He's calling on Kiwis to get their wallets - and presumably contactless Paywave EFTPOS cards - out and support local businesses that were unable to trade during level 3.

"People can go to restaurants, they can go to bars - but they need to stick to groups of no more than 10, and each group of 10 needs to be physically separated." 

As for Aucklanders wanting to get out of the city now the borders are open, he said they should follow the tougher 2.5 rules in place at home, rather than the looser level 2 rules the rest of the country is under.

"If we've been in Auckland, and closer to the source of contagion, we need to apply the rules as if we were still in Auckland." 

Roturua Mayor Steve Chadwick can't wait for Aucklanders to return. She said under level 1 a lot of Kiwis visited the tourism-dependent city, with international borders largely shut. But it wasn't clear until Auckland went into level 3 just how many of them were from the super city.

"Hotel bookings have been down, some of our destinations have been markedly down - so we're looking forward to having them back...

"My daughter's an Aucklander and she says, 'You know, we've felt that JAFAs aren't very popular.' We say we love you, come on down."

She and Goff say if Aucklanders aren't feeling well though, they should absolutely stay at home.