Some Mad Butcher stores continue to trade despite the Government issuing strict orders for all non-essential businesses to be shut as part of a mandatory lockdown to help curb the spread of Covid-19.
This morning, Mad Butcher stores in Mt Roskill and Glen Innes, in Auckland, owned by Michael Morton, continued to trade and remain open despite this - contrary to what Mad Butcher founder Sir Peter Leitch thinks about the importance of self-isolation.
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A spokeswoman from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) earlier said it was aware that some Mad Butcher stores remained opened today despite the ban, but said these were not permitted to be trading.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this afternoon agreed - she said not all food outlets could remain open because it would undermine the purpose of the lockdown.
"Food is essential, but if we simply allowed every food outlet in New Zealand to open we wouldn't achieve what we need to achieve, which is as little contact as possible between one another, we also need to reduce down the risk to as many workplaces as we can," Ardern said.
"Butcher shops are not classified as essential. What they supply can largely also be purchased at supermarkets. This approach has been taken to prevent community transmission and to ensure people limit movement to their suburbs," the MBIE spokeswoman said.
"We need as many businesses as possible to close to slow the spread of the virus."
Leitch, who founded the butcher chain in 1971, says Kiwis should take the coronavirus outbreak much more seriously.
Leitch told The Hits' Laura, Sam and Toni that he believed people who were still "out and about" were "idiots".
Another butcher in Point Chevalier, the Local Butcher, also remains open today. A shop assistant told the Herald it had been issued an "exemption to stay open until 5pm, Friday" - this has not been verified by MBIE.
In a statement released this evening, Michael Morton said Mad Butcher and its lawyers had taken "extensive steps yesterday and again today" to clarify its position as an essential business.
"We have informed MBIE on several occasions why we meet the essential business definition. In discussions with MBIE today, MBIE's call centre representative agreed with us that as a supermarket, Mad Butcher could continue operating."
"Our stores are not small butcher shops. They have the size and scale of a small supermarket," Morton said.
"We believe we clearly meet the government's criteria and provide a safe and local alternative to the big supermarkets. We have spent significant sums to ensure we have in place the correct hygiene and safety measures in our stores as we believed – based on MBIE's advice – that we would be staying open."
Businesses in recent days have been frantically trying to work out if they are deemed essential and therefore able to operate during the lockdown.
Initial Government information was vague, citing only 15 sectors, but has since clarified that butchers, bakeries and green grocers and other small food-related operators are not deemed essential as these services can be accessed through the supermarkets, which continue to trade through lockdown.
Liquor stores and health stores are also not permitted to be trading.
Dairies can remain open, as they sell basic food items like milk and bread to those who live nearby, especially for the elderly who may struggle to get to a supermarket, the Government has said.
Todd McClay, the economic development and small business spokesperson for the National Party, is urging the Government to review its framework to allow some butchers and green grocers to operate through the lockdown.
"We are calling on the Government to revisit the limited opening of butchers and fruit and vegetable stores, particularly in smaller communities that might not have access to other food services," McClay said.
"Many people live relatively close to supermarkets but choose to do their weekly shop at local butchers and greengrocers because of the unique products they sell. This is especially true of our ethnic communities who tend to shop at speciality stores.
"Allowing them to trade in the same way as dairies during the lockdown makes sense. This will give certainty to people as they grapple with the new restrictions."
• Officials have provided the phone number 0508 377 388 or email email@example.com for businesses who are confused about whether they are an essential service, and are advising firms to contact their local BusinessNZ outpost for guidance.