Sunday, November 28

Covid-19 lockdown: Auckland businesses question how ‘essential’ is defined

The question of which companies are and which are not essential during Auckland’s Level 4 lockdown has some companies frustrated and disheartened as their finances continue to dwindle.

Auckland Central at noon on the first day of closing August 2021.

A deserted Auckland on the first day of the current lockdown on August 17.
Photo: RNZ / Robert Smith

If all goes well and Covid-19 case numbers continue to fall, the government has announced that Auckland could move to alert level 3 on Tuesday.

Until then, the city’s nonessential businesses are sitting around waiting for the storm to pass.

But the question of what constitutes an essential business is increasingly a gray area. Why, for example, can you get a box of donuts and a bottle of gin at home, but not a book or a bouquet of flowers?

Under current level 4 restrictions, Time Out Bookstore at Mt Eden is unable to offer contactless delivery or click and collect, let alone browse the store.

And while customers can order online and wait until level 3 for their books to ship, store manager Jenna Todd said it’s not enough to keep business in the long run.

“Sales are very, very down than they usually are. If I look at the four weeks before we crashed, we would be sitting between 8 and 10 percent of those usual sales.”

When it comes to whether they should be able to deliver during level 4, Todd said she’s very divided on the issue.

“All we can do from a Time Out standpoint is keep our staff in our community as safe as possible.

“Are books on the same level as food and medicine? No. Do they add a lot to your quality of life? Yes. Is it difficult to see other companies sell things that may be similar or that are not considered essential? Yes. These are all these questions that we constantly ask ourselves.

“It’s frustrating and that frustration persists as level 4 drags on. It’s pretty difficult.”

Jenna Todd of Time Out Books in Auckland.

Jenna Todd of Time Out Books in Auckland operating under level 3 restrictions in April last year.
Photo: RNZ / Matthew Theunissen

ACT Party leader and MP for Epsom David Seymour said the current way of determining what can and cannot operate below level 4 is illogical.

“We need to move from arbitrarily defining what is essential to focusing on what can be done safely. The goal here is not to close deals. The goal is to eliminate transmission of Covid-19. If we had a focus on security instead that essentiality, then I think we would be in a much better space.

“Peaches and Cream, a store that sells novelty sex items, can make deliveries, but you can’t send flowers to people first because flower delivery is prohibited … even if it can be done safely.”

He has been in contact with various companies in Epsom that are struggling to stay afloat.

“People are out of their minds. They are very frustrated. They are telling me how much money they are burning every week.”

Terrie Gray, owner of Paradox Books in Devonport, Auckland, said it is frustrating to see other companies trading below level 4 while not being allowed to trade at all.

“It’s a bit hard to swallow … when I walk to my bookstore for five minutes, I pass two open liquor stores and I can’t open it, it’s hard to accept.”

Under alert level 4, flower growers cannot sell or distribute their products, which means that the beautiful flowers that took months to produce go straight to the trash.

This week, growers sent more than 3,000 bouquets of flowers to Parliament to protest what they see as arbitrary rules about who can and cannot deliver.

Hill Road Blooms owner Jacqui Whelan helped coordinate the protest and is happy with how it went.

“Auckland growers are at breaking point. It is very difficult to see all their produce that was sown months and months ago and they have to go harvest it and it goes straight to compost.

“We are not trying to say that flowers are essential because they are not an essential product. However, we think that they are great for mental health. Especially for people who are stuck at home under a level 4 blockage.”

“We have our fingers crossed tightly that Mr. [Director-General of Health Dr Ashley] Bloomfield himself, who I just got an email from thanking him for his bouquet yesterday, will consider our request and fingers crossed will give us some safe working guidelines to make level 4 a little easier for growers across the country. “.

bunch of flowers

More than 3,000 bouquets of flowers were sent to Parliament to protest what producers see as arbitrary rules about what can and cannot be delivered (file image).
Photo: 123RF

Meanwhile, Jenna Todd of Time Out Bookstore said they are receiving great support, keeping them active during this difficult time.

“We are also being supported by our owners. The salary subsidy is incredibly helpful to us and it really helps our entire team to get ahead because we sit very still until we can go back and we are so eager to go back to the store and get all those books out. “.

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