22 August 2021

Southland Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Cautious of Drop in Alert Levels

Some people in the Southland business community are cautious about dropping down Covid-19 alert levels too quickly.

Southland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Sheree Carey said a cautious approach was the best long-term option.

New Zealand is in alert level 4 lockdown until at least 11.59pm Tuesday, after a case of the Delta Covid-19 strain was reported in Auckland last week. There are now 72 confirmed cases and the Ministry of Health has identified 10,000 Kiwis who may have come into contact with a positive case, at 219 places of interest.

There are close contacts across the country, though no confirmed cases in the South Island.

Invercargill clothing retailer McKnight & Brown owner Bernie Brown said “we just have to be cautious and patient”.

“Small business owners, keep positive that we can get through this.”

Brown did not want to rush dropping alert levels.

“We want to make sure the way forward is safe, rather than an open, shut, open, shut scenario. We just have to hope it has not spread to the South Island,” Brown said.

“It’s a wait-and-see game.”

Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins announced on Sunday there was potential for movement with different regional boundaries in different alert levels.

Carey was hoping Southland dropped to alert level 3 on Wednesday, however that would not help many retailers and hospitality businesses.

Government support packages would continue to be crucial, she said.

Under alert level 3, businesses requiring close physical contact cannot operate. Customers cannot go into a business, unless it is a supermarket, dairy, butcher, fishmonger, greengrocer, petrol station, pharmacy or permitted health service.

Given the time it took to get test results, and Southlanders currently self-isolating because of possible exposure in Auckland, Carey said dropping down alert levels too quickly could be risky.

Even if there continued to be no South Island cases, Carey could not see the district going to alert level 2 before August 30.

Businesses needed to think about what could work in alert levels 3 and 4, she said.

“I would hope since last year people had done some brainstorming around what to do in this situation.”

Carey pointed to one clothing retailer who had kept their cash-flow up, selling $500 vouchers for $350.

During the lockdowns and changing alert levels, Southland would continue to rely on its strong essential workforce, she said.

However, in the past week she had been fielding calls from primary industry support businesses, who were unsure if they were essential.

Southland has the largest percentage of essential workers of any region in the country. More than 27 per cent of its workforce is continuing to work in their place of employment under alert level 4.

Auckland has the smallest amount of essential workers going to work of any region, with just under 15 per cent. Wellington is just over 15 per cent.

The Invercargill central block redevelopment and construction of the Langlands Hotel is paused during alert level 4. However, building could resume in alert level 3.

For the time being, some Christchurch and Wellington-based Leighs Construction staff are hunkering down across the road from the building site.

Six hotel construction workers are spending their lockdown at the Tuatara Backpackers Lodge, including Christchurch man Lino Calagday.

He had not seen his wife, a teacher in the Philippines, since 2018, he said.

Calagday was frustrated not to be working, but hoped he could get back to it if Southland went to alert level 3 on Wednesday.

Cabinet will meet on Monday to decide the next steps.

Published by Stuff.co.nz – 22 August 2021

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