While the shift from COVID-19 response level four to three might offer businesses a little more certainty, it is unrealistic to expect anything akin to a “return to normal” says Te Awamutu Chamber of Commerce CEO Kris Anderson.
“At least it offers more certainty around where we’re headed,” he said, “and it does allow us to put support in place for businesses able to open under level three. But level two is where we need to be.”
Kris said he believed the steps taken by the New Zealand Government in its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak had put the country in a good position. But with projections of an extended recession gaining ground, “possibly of a year to 18 months”, there were many challenges to come.
He said the hospitality-tourism sector was taking the biggest hit. Similarly disadvantaged are retail outlets which had not been offering the sort of online service prior to lockdown that could mean they are able to re-open at level three.
“The bigger worry is how long they can hold out. Realistically, life is not going to return to what we regarded as ‘normal’ … there will be significant changes ahead for most businesses.
Look at cinemas, for example. How do they accomplish social distancing without seriously impacting their business? And that’s just one example.”
He commended both the Government and Te Waka, Waikato’s regional economic development agency, for their efforts over the past few weeks.
“There has been a lot of support shown in terms of getting people up and running in the virtual space … finding out what they need and where.
“The bigger worry is how long they can hold out. Realistically, life is not going to return to what we regarded as ‘normal’ … there will be significant changes ahead for most businesses.”
“But the reality is that many of our local businesses would rely on face-to-face traffic and won’t have an online presence. That will be a challenge.
It will be particularly hard for some business owners who have not previously operated in that space to access and fund the technology they need.”
Even as businesses struggled with the ongoing restrictions, most of them understood and accepted the seriousness of the associated health challenge and were supportive of the Government’s moves, he said.
“Everyone’s worried, of course, but if we do this correctly now, we can hope to get out the other end quicker.”