Coronavirus: Sir John Key calls on Government to open the economy more while in lockdown

Former Prime Minister Sir John Key believes the Government should change how it structures business activity at alert level 3 in order to have a more open economy.

The economy has been in a "freeze frame" since lockdown began nearly five weeks ago, he says, and businesses will be feeling the financial pinch.

"It's crucially important we get to a freer, more open economy. In a funny kind of way, I think the levels system was a good idea and it did its job - it defined what we had to do, but in a lot of ways it defined what we couldn't do," he said during an interview on Rebuilding Paradise with Paul Henry.

"I don't think the Government should wake up every day and say are we in level 3 and I'll let you know in a couple of weeks if we move to level 2. I think they should get up every single morning and say what could we do, how could we get the economy growing faster, how could we get people back into work and into their businesses and do that in a safe way."

He says New Zealand will have to learn to live with the threat of COVID-19 in the future, so people need to know how to operate in a way where they can return to work but still keep their communities safe.

One thing Key says he learnt after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake is the longer a business is out of action, "the less likely it's coming back".

"There are one hell of a lot of New Zealanders who are really hurting.

"Instead of [the Government] saying what we can't do… I think they've got to say to themselves what can we do."

Compared with Australia, he claims three states there have had similar case rates as New Zealand, but "they've had a lot more freedom" in terms of the number of businesses that could open and operate.

"We've been in a freeze frame for our economy, but, very rapidly, if we're going to save businesses we have to get back to work."

The Government has introduced a raft of economic measures to support businesses during the pandemic. About $10 billion has been paid out via wage subsidies, while greater flexibility has been given to businesses to meet their tax obligations. Some business owners are calling for more assistance, however.

Watch his full interview with Paul Henry above.