The Government has today issued guidance for how businesses can operate in Alert Level 3 (on New Zealand's COVID-19 Alert System), and what measures are required for them to do so. This guidance has been much anticipated as businesses begin to prepare for reductions in COVID-19 restrictions, including a possible return to workplaces.
In her daily update, the Prime Minister strongly emphasised that the country is still under Alert Level 4, and all Alert Level 4 restrictions will remain in place until Cabinet makes a decision to move to Alert Level 3. An announcement on whether the Government will move to Level 3 at the end of the original four-week period is expected to be made following Cabinet's meeting on 20 April 2020. The reason for issuing the guidance in advance is to allow businesses time to prepare, and the Government to provide additional clarity, before the Alert Level 3 takes effect.
Alert Level 3 was used to transition the country into Alert Level 4. Today it was described as a recovery room, "where we wait and see if what we have done has worked". The Prime Minister specifically noted that it is not designed to be a "place we want to spend a long time".
The overarching principle remains that people should stay at home, and should work remotely whenever possible. However, key changes affecting businesses under Alert Level 3 are:
- Business premises that can operate safely will be allowed to do so, if remote working is not an option. This is a change from only essential services, as is the case under Alert Level 4.
- Businesses that involve public congregation must remain closed (customers cannot enter stores). Only narrow exceptions to this remain (eg supermarkets and dairies are able to continue operating with the same restrictions and measures as Alert Level 4). However, all businesses will be able to trade online, carry out deliveries and provide contactless pre-ordered pick up services.
- Businesses cannot offer services that involve face-to-face contact or sustained close contact (ie door-to-door salespeople, hairdressers, massages or house cleaning). Other in-home services can be delivered if it is safe to do so (ie tradespeople carrying out repairs) provided a two-metre separation is maintained from occupants in the house.
Although the restrictions will continue to materially impact many retail and hospitality businesses, it is hoped that opening up online and delivery services will provide opportunities to continue in business. On the other hand, Level 3 should allow a large range of businesses in construction, manufacturing, foresty and other "non-contact" service industries to recommence "safe" operations.
The Government has provided some guidance on what constitutes businesses operating "safely". Protective measures are required to ensure the safety of workers. These safety measures include maintaining at least a one metre distance between workers, recording who is working together, limiting interactions between groups of workers, disinfecting surfaces and maintaining high hygiene standards. MBIE will establish a self-accreditation scheme – details of which are still to come.
A link to the guidance is available here
. The Government has indicated that it will continue to undertake consultation with stakeholders, and that more guidance will follow (including details for specific sectors). As with Level 4, it will not be possible to develop clear "rules" that cover every scenario. Responsible decision-making by businesses will be key to ensuring that the Level 3 phase is successful.
The Government has also updated its Alert Levels Summary chart, with additional detail on Alert Levels 1 and 2. The Prime Minister's press release, which includes a link to the updated chart, is available here
Please get in touch if you wish to obtain more clarity on what Alert Level 3 means for your business.