COVID-19 - Operating Your Business at Alert Level 2 - MBP Advisors + Accountants

Originally Published 7th May 2020
Last Updated 30th August 2020

The government has announced what COVID-19 Alert Level 2 will look like for New Zealand.  The decision to shift to Level 2 is yet to be made.  Cabinet meets on Monday to decide if, and when, the shift to Level 2 will occur.  However, all indications are that Level 2 will begin from next Wednesday, but the Prime Minister has signaled that Level 2 may be phased in over a period of time to reduce the associated risks.

The framework for Level 2 significantly removes many of the strictest restrictions of COVID-19 Alert Levels 3 & 4 which will be a much-welcomed relief for our collective sanity and a major boost for the economy.  The changes resemble a first step towards something like a return to ‘normal’. However, it isunlikely we will return to a true ‘normal’ until COVID-19 is a distant memory and a vaccine is available. The road ahead is long and we are truly only just starting the journey.

Like the shift to level 3, it is fair to expect an initial rush of people wanting to get out and spend. Be prepared to manage an influx of orders or customers, you don;t want your restaurant, cafe or store to be the reason we get kicked back into Level 3 or be shamed in the national media for any failings.

Basic Principles for Alert Level 2

Level 2 was described by the Prime Minister as a safe reopening of the economy.  The fundamental principles include:

  • People should stay at home if they are sick (as you always should!); and
  • Anyone with any cold or flu symptoms should be tested; and
  • Enhanced hygiene measures need to be in place (regular cleaning of high touch surfaces, etc); and
  • Contacts need to be traceable (i.e. a guest register will be required for somewhere that strangers can be in contact with each other); and
  • Social distancing (2m) remains for contact with strangers, but can be somewhat relaxed for non-stranger interactions; and
  • Bubbles will be a thing of the past; and
  • No gatherings of more than 100 people (inside and outside); and
  • Contactless payment will no longer be required; and
  • Borders remain closed, but domestic travel can resume.

The Government is working on a nationwide contact tracing technology that will be based on QR codes, but it does not sound like that will be ready in time for the shift to Level 2. As with most things, you’re better to have a plan for your own business rather than waiting on the government.

Update: The NZ COVID Tracer App is now live. Displaying the app’s QR codes to enable people to sign-in is also now mandatory for all businesses. To create your unique QR code, Click Here.

Alert Level 2.5 – Adjustments Following Auckland Cluster

The government has mandated the use of protective masks on all public transport from Monday the 31st of August.

Gatherings in Auckland will be limited to 10. However, there are no travel restrictions so people from Auckland can travel freely nationwide. It is important to maintain social distancing and the other basic principles of Alert Level 2.

It is advisable to wear a face covering or mask whenever you leave your private home. Masks will be a part of our daily life until Alert Level 1. Read more on how to wear a face covering safely and make it part of your routine.

What Alert Level 2 Means for Businesses

If businesses can safely trade within the Level 2 framework, they will be able to do so.   The shift to Level 2 will provide the first opportunity to trade for about 7 weeks for many businesses, including some of the hardest hit industries.

Like the shift to level 3, it is fair to expect that there will be an initial rush of people wanting to get out and spend.  Consumer confidence is extremely low, so consumer spending will almost certainly fall to far lower than normal levels at some point after this initial rush.  Therefore, businesses will want to make sure they are prepared and can reopen safely in those first few days.

The Prime Minister today described how certain industries will be able to operate.  Here is a brief summary:

Retail – can trade with enhanced hygiene measures, especially for high touch surfaces.  Numbers of customers in the store may need to be managed for larger retailers to ensure social distancing.

Hospitality – Unsurprisingly hospitality has the toughest requirements.  A hospitality venue will be subject to the “3 S’s”:

  • Seated – patrons must be seated.
  • Separated – there must be physical distancing between the tables.
  • Single server – each table must be served at the table by a single server.

These requirements may mean that it is impractical or uneconomical for certain hospitality venues to reopen at Level 2. This specifically applies to some bars and nightclubs. However, some restaurants will also not be able to seat a viable number of patrons or will simply not have the required number of staff to enable single server service per table.

Hairdressers and beauty salons – can resume seeing customers but will need to wear personal protection equipment due to the prolonged close proximity to customers. Masks or facial shields are the key items to be worn. Regular hand washing with soap and water is more practical and effective than gloves in many instances.

Sport and recreation – Gyms, pools, parks and museums, etc. can all reopen, subject to necessary precautions.

Sports can resume on a case by case basis.  A domestic rugby and netball competition will start as soon as possible.

Education – Can resume subject to necessary precautions.  Schools will resume the first Monday after the announcement.

Take a Precautionary Approach to Health and Safety in Your Workplace

While COVID-19 is in or community, caution is the best cause of action. You don’t want your business to be ground zero of the next cluster.

Cleaning is key for all businesses. We recommend bathrooms and high touch surfaces are cleaned as frequently as possible. Tills/EFTPOS machines should be sanitised after contact payments, hands should be washed at least every 15 minutes and bathrooms should be cleaned as often as practicable given their levels of use.

If your team can work from home, encourage it. The non-taxable $20/week allowance to help cover costs of staff working from home has been extended by the IRD until March 2021. They have also extended the time frame for making non-taxable payments of $400 to staff to reimburse them for the costs of setting up a home office. You can make these payments with no reimbursement evidence (receipts, etc.) and with no payroll or FBT implications.

Encourage the wearing of masks in your business when social distancing is not possible. This is not a requirement but is a cautionary approach that should see the risk of COVID and flu spreading in your workplace drastically reduced.

With everything we have learned over the past few months, take the time this week to review your internal Infection Control and Prevention Policy. Make the required updates and discuss these with your team.

Book in a Free Chat with one of our Experts

Need to discuss your plans for moving forward? Click HERE to book a free 30 minute chat with an MBP Business Partner. We can advise on everything from tax to payroll, human resources, cashflow and more.

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