Next Tuesday, NZ moves to Alert Level 3 for two weeks, before the Government reviews progress and makes further decisions on 11 May. With any change comes uncertainty and I’ve been working hard to ensure you have the clarity on the rules you need.
Alert Level 3 means some people have a chance to get back to work and businesses start their recovery journey to their new normal, moving from 'essential' to 'safe'. Being 'safe' means having to comply with stringent requirements that include physical distancing and health and safety practices. The Taupo Chamber of Commerce has compiled a handy chart that demonstrates what businesses will need to do to comply. These include:
- Social distancing
- Correct use of PPE
- Managed interactions with the wider community
- Contact tracing
- Wherever possible limited travel
I've been receiving a number of enquiries about what types of business can open. The queries range from takeaways businesses, butcheries, to coffee carts amongst others. The COVID-19 website offers some answers but not all are as straightforward as it may appear.
If you have any further queries after looking at the official pages, please get in touch and I can ask the relevant questions for you and get advice for you.
Keeping employees safe
Worksafe has provided "Transitioning from Alert Level 4" health and safety measures advice including the necessary requirements for businesses to keep employees safe. However, it's conceivable that many businesses will find the compliance requirements too prohibitive to open at this stage.
The announcement of an independent review in the management of PPE by the Auditor-General has set the tone for one of many hurdles communities will face once the movement of people increases. There are many practical realities of people needing to keep themselves safe including the physical distancing requirement at work.
It is important that we all keep ourselves safe also mentally. There are three new online self-help tools: Melon, Mentemia and Staying on Track, which provide different levels of support and practical strategies to cope with the stress and disruption of day-to-day life.
Other activities under Alert Level 3
Not all the rules change from Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 3 and there are still many restrictions in place.
Recreation: While people will be keen to get out and about at Alert Level 3, it is important we remember that activities must still be local and safe, and there must be no interaction with other people (maintain a 2m distance) or equipment touched by other people. You can go to your nearest beach or park, but there is still some confusion around what travelling regionally means.
If you are an experienced surfer, you can go to your local break. If you’re not experienced, don’t surf. If you want to go fishing you can do so from a wharf or the shore, but don’t cast off the rocks or fish from a boat (boating is not allowed). Tramping is allowed for day walks on easy trails, same for mountain biking if you are experienced and know the trail.
Education: There has been some confusion too, around the Minister for Education's announcement around the opening of Early Childhood Education centres and schools.
The Minister has clarified that under Alert Level 3, children up to and including year 10 can go to school if parents need to go to work. If parents are able to, they should still be keeping their children home. All young people in years 11-13 will continue to learn at home. Home-based early learning services can resume up to the maximum number of licensed children of 4, including the educator’s own children. Play centres and playgroups will remain closed.
It will take at least a week for schools and early learning services to get ready to open after we go to Alert Level 3. Most tertiary education will still be through distance learning.
PPE is not necessary at school but some of the other stringent safety requirements include: limiting group sizes to 10 and then over time increasing to 20, staggering start and finish times, strict health and safety rules and establishing contact tracing registers.
Visit here for more information.
In our electorate, we have a large agricultural sector and our farmers have also suffered consequence during this period of COVID-19. It is a known fact however, that no matter the pandemic, food still needs to be produced and people still need to eat. We are fortunate that New Zealand is a large food producer and this economic foundation will benefit many of New Zealand’s regional areas including ours especially when it comes to employment opportunities.
MPI has released guidance around what moving to Alert Level 3 will means for the primary sector. The significant change for our electorate is for our forestry industry which can operate under Alert Level 3 as per guidance issued.
Economic recovery vs unemployment and the dole
The tourism sectors will likely be one of the industries hardest hit and this will mean a loss of jobs in the short term. In Taupo, we rely heavily on tourism and local economic recovery managers are focussing efforts on how we attract tourists to our district and the type of tourist we will be seeing. Enterprise Great Lake Taupo has released useful information on how you can plan for business continuity.
We are likely to see many more workers out of work and Treasury estimates see the unemployment rate set to rise significantly and could even go beyond 10%. The impact on individuals and their families with a reduced income or loss of employment is incredibly challenging.
As businesses falter, more people will go on the dole, we've already seen a significant rise in MSD applications for unemployment benefit. MSD is releasing their quarterly benefit stats on 23 April 2020, and I will update you on this in our next newsletter.
It is predicted that the rush of job losses initially announced is just the tip of the iceberg and we can expect to see many more as the wage subsidy scheme comes to an end in June. I don't think we should underestimate the extent of welfare needs increasing as the recovery response ramps up and unemployment rises.
It is becoming more and more important for local councils to focus on both their economic and welfare recovery plans and I am working closely with Mayors and Councils to determine just what that means for our local communities and economies. Some options include redeploying workers into other businesses, but there is also the aspect of upskilling and training that need to be factored in.
On the positive side, the changes to the economy could open up new opportunities for innovation going forward and I am keen to hear your views on how we can innovate to create new opportunities, new industries and new jobs.
Key contacts and sources of information
- Healthline 0800 358 5453
- Government helpline 0800 779 997
- Need to talk? Call or text 1737 or visit allright.org.nz/campaigns/getting-through-together
- Essential business enquiries firstname.lastname@example.org or 0800 22 66 57
- Reporting breaches of any Level 4 Alert restrictions at 105.police.govt.nz
- Queries about transport email email@example.com
- For financial support visit www.workandincome.govt.nz or call 0800 559 009
My team and I continue to work hard for you. If you know of someone who needs assistance please ensure they have my details. If you need support, we are here for you so please get in touch if you need to.