Coronavirus: A 'whole lot' of businesses could reopen at alert level 3 - Winston Peters

"A whole lot" of businesses could reopen when New Zealand's COVID-19 lockdown alert level is reduced, the Deputy Prime Minister says. 

If companies can meet safety requirements and follow best practice guidelines, Winston Peters told Newstalk ZB unless there is an "adverse finding" the "evidence looks compelling" for several businesses to reopen at alert level 3. 

"It's very wise to make your decision when you've got all your information… no one would be wise to make up your mind before Monday next week," Peters said.

"At the moment we’re pointing to the easing up of the situation and the requirement for greater clarity to enable as many businesses back into business as possible."

The Government is set to release details of what alert level 3 will look like on Thursday, with Cabinet to announce whether New Zealand is ready to come out of alert level 4 lockdown on Monday. 

There is pressure on the Government to bring the country out of lockdown, with just 20 new cases of coronavirus reported on Wednesday and no new deaths recorded. 

Meanwhile, around $9 billion has been spent subsidising Kiwis' wages during the lockdown as most businesses have not been deemed 'essential' and therefore have no income. 

Business leaders have urged the Government to give them plenty of time to plan for the return to work, after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said they will have just two days from the April 20 announcement to prepare. 

ACT leader David Seymour told The AM Show it is time to treat New Zealanders "like adults" and allow businesses to operate, as long as they can practice safe physical distancing and best practice. 

In a speech to the businesses community on Wednesday, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the emphasis at alert level 3 will move from "essential" economic activity to "safe" economic activity. 

"I am aware of the work that businesses large and small are doing to change their way of working to operate in as safe a way as possible so we can allow as much activity as possible," he said. 

"The critical questions are: is it possible for your business to have social distancing? Can you build in contact tracing tools or mechanisms to keep track of your supply chain and customers?"

He said any decision to move out of alert level 4 will be made "within the context of an elimination strategy" for COVID-19, and that it ultimately sits with Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield to decide if the disease is under control. 

"I can also assure you that Cabinet will consider evidence of the impact of current containment measures on the economy and wider society," Robertson said. 

"The economic modelling released by the Treasury yesterday will help inform this decision, but I would caution that the path the economy takes from here remains extremely uncertain."

Treasury's modelling released earlier this week showed up to 26 percent unemployment if the lockdown was extended by up to six months. 

The Prime Minister said the reason for "going hard and going early" is so New Zealand does not have a prolonged period of lockdown as the Treasury has run scenarios on. 

She pointed to other countries that are in lockdown at the moment that are extending them. France has extended its lockdown until May 11, with similar plans previously announced by Italy and Spain. 

"The reason we moved quickly is to avoid those situations," Ardern said. "Ultimately, all of us want unemployment to be as low as possible. What we are simply ruling out is the idea that we would be in lockdown at level 4 for six months."

Business leaders have revealed what they think should reopen at alert level 3, including restaurants, takeaway joints, gyms and some retail stores. 

The Government has made some exceptions so far to what can open. 

Forestry Minister Shane Jones announced this week that some wood-processing will continue during alert level 4 to ensure critical services can operate and production of essential good continues, after forestry was deemed non-essential. 

And despite the delivery of newspapers and magazines being ruled out, they can be delivered to regions where connectivity is low, and an exception has been made for non-English publications.