Coronavirus: One-in-five Auckland businesses say they won't survive another lockdown

Many Auckland businesses say they won't survive another lockdown like the one the city's currently under.

But Finance Minister Grant Robertson says in the face of new outbreaks of COVID-19,  they're the best hope for keeping the economy alive.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce asked members how many more two-week level 3 restrictions they could handle. Nearly one-in-five - 18 percent - said one more lockdown would kill them off. 

Twenty-eight percent they could survive one more, but not two, and another 24 percent reckoned they had enough in them to last two more 14-day lockdowns.

Robertson told Newshub Nation on Saturday that's why the Government's borrowed the billions it has - to help them through.

"I've got a lot of sympathy for those businesses. What we also know though is our ability to get on top of any resurgence is the most important thing for then getting the economy going again. The reason we put this level of restriction on is so we can get back to business as quickly as possible."

Many businesses told the Auckland Chamber of Commerce what they really needed was cash in the hand, like they're getting across the ditch in Victoria. Robertson said there were no plans to do that at this stage instead suggesting they look into the small business cashflow loan scheme.

"That's been taken up by nearly 100,000 small businesses and given them access to the working capital that they need. So we've got that scheme, we've extended it out. That's our focus at this time.

"As we've shown right throughout this pandemic, we've been prepared to look at shifting when we need to - but we feel that scheme is the right one for meeting those needs at this time... [A cash grant] is certainly not on our agenda at the moment."  

Grant Robertson.
Grant Robertson. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

Businesses also said they want rent relief. Robertson said there is help available for mediation with landlords, blaming coalition partners New Zealand First for the lack of direct relief - but not naming them directly.

"That's very much on the public record... That's well and truly written up in history what happened there." 

The number one thing businesses asked for however was a guarantee the country's biggest city wouldn't be yoyo-ing in and out of lockdown levels. Robertson said that depended on "the circumstances at the time" of any future possible outbreak of COVID-19.

"I've got the Treasury and other officials looking at how we can package together things that can adapt to different alert levels - that's an important piece of work. But for now, for this situation, the wage subsidy scheme extension was the right response." 

Robertson dismissed research by the Productivity Commission earlier this year which estimated the five-day extension to the level 4 lockdown in April cost the economy $750 million. 

The report was obtained by Newshub under the Official Information Act, and rubbished by expert disease modeller Shaun Hendy, who called it a "toy model" which failed to take into account the economic benefits of eliminating community transmission of the disease.

"That particular piece of work by the Productivity Commission has been well and truly debunked by a number of people," said Robertson. "Even the Treasury doesn't support the analysis that's in that, so I don't buy into that at all. What I do know, by looking around the rest of the world, is that by going hard and going early, we were able to get our economy back up and running again."

New Zealand did fare better than expected in the three months before the new outbreak, with economic activity back to near-normal levels and unemployment not rising, at least according to the official measure. Other countries who didn't lock down as hard as New Zelaand, such as the UK, US and Sweden, have suffered bigger hits to their GDP and employment. 

"If we take these outbreaks seriously and move hard and early, we get the economy back going again," said Robertson. "That's what we should have to be doing in this situation here, just as we did before.... The best economic response is a strong public health response." 

National has proposed limiting lockdowns to smaller regions than the entire area covered by Auckland Council, to ease the economic hit. 

"We think that it may be more possible to... look at pockets of concern, maybe have location-specific areas of lockdown," health spokesperson Shane Reti told Newshub Nation.

"We think maybe that would ameliorate some of the things that we're seeing around the economic consequences and the other consequences of a widespread block-like lockdown."

Critics say that was tried in Melbourne and failed miserably. Dr Reti suggested it might not be as localised as street-by-street, as it was in Melbourne, but "more finessed" than the entirety of Auckland, which has seen businesses in the south of the city cut off from suppliers south of the border, and vice versa.

"I think we can be more sophisticated in where we could place the lockdown. Just to take a council boundary and say 'that's where the lockdown is going to be' may not have served us as well as it could have."