Yesterday, the Government announced how businesses will be able to operate at Alert Level 2, and what restrictions will remain in place. The Government is expected to announce when New Zealand will move to Alert Level 2 following the Cabinet meeting on 11 May 2020. Until then, businesses must continue to comply with all Alert Level 3 restrictions. The Prime Minister has reaffirmed the desire to avoid "yo-yo"ing back to Alert Levels 3 and 4, using an Everest analogy to warn of the danger of descent and the risk of having to hike back up to the peak. New Zealand will move to Alert Level 2 when the Government is confident there is no community transmission and that COVID-19 is contained.
In the daily COVID-19 media conference on 7 May, the Prime Minister stated, "In a nutshell, the principle behind Level 2 is to play it safe". As New Zealand shifts from Alert Level 3 to Alert Level 2, the overarching principle for businesses also remains the same – the responsibility is on businesses to ensure that they operate safely, by complying with infection control measures. However, there will be a few notable relaxations of the rules in place under Level 3, which we expect will enable many more businesses to either re-open, or adopt business practices that move closer to normal:
- Businesses will be permitted to have customers on their premises, provided there is a contact tracing register to record close interactions (between employees, contractors or customers) on business premises, regular cleaning of surfaces, and a physical distance of one metre is maintained between customers.
- Hospitality businesses will only be able to operate if they keep groups of customers seated and separated. Restrictions on gatherings (no more than 100 people indoors) will continue to apply.
- Services can be provided at the customer's premises, for example in people's homes (ie, home cleaning, childcare).
- Businesses that involve close personal contact to deliver a service (eg, hairdressers and beauticians) can open at Alert Level 2, but should wear appropriate PPE. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and WorkSafe are in the process of developing sector-specific guidance for key sectors.
- All businesses are encouraged to use alternative forms of working if possible. For example, a business may choose to stagger shifts to minimise the amount of interpersonal interaction between workers. The Prime Minister specifically noted the productivity gains of staggered start times, less congestion, and working from home, and that "there's no reason we should lose what we have learnt".
- Domestic travel is permitted, which is significant for the tourism sector.
- Employees can travel for work anywhere In New Zealand, but should only do so if necessary.
The Government has given guidance on what it means for businesses to operate "safely" at Alert Level 2 (here
). Businesses must also consider what risk mitigation measures should be implemented in their workplaces to comply with health and safety obligations - WorkSafe continues to issue guidance on this.
The full press release on Alert Level 2 restrictions is here
The announcement of the shift to Alert Level 2 comes in the midst of questions being publicly raised regarding the legality of implementing the lockdown, and associated decision making, which, to date, has relied on the Epidemic Notice, the Health Act, and the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act. Attorney General, Hon David Parker, announced yesterday that a new law providing a legal framework for Alert Level 2 will be introduced and debated next week. The press release is available here
. It will likely be passed under urgency.
If your business would like more clarity on Alert Level 2, please get in touch with one of our experts listed below.