The big end of town is well prepared for covid-19 having already laid the groundwork in response to the measles outbreak, according to the chair of the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council.
Fraser Whineray, who is also outgoing chief executive at Mercury NZ, said the council spent about 50 minutes of today's two-and-a-half-hour meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talking about the reaction to the covid-19 outbreak. There have been three confirmed cases in New Zealand so far.
The meeting - which included Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi - had an agenda, but Whineray said covid-19 "was the thing we talked longest about."
Big businesses had already started preparing for a measles outbreak and were clear on what essential infrastructure they needed, he told BusinessDesk after the meeting.
"The larger end of town is pretty well prepared because we've all just dusted these things off for the measles outbreak."
Whineray said that businesses should make their own decisions about whether staff needed to work from home, and noted that many international firms might be adhering to global edicts for staff safety.
Council members told Ardern that the main issue facing business was financing costs.
"It's about liquidity to bridge your way through a downturn of customers. If you are a restaurant - your lease, if you are forester - the finance lease on your vehicle, if you are a crayfish exporter - it's your people," Whineray said.
After the meeting, Ardern reiterated that small and medium-sized business need to talk proactively to their banks.
When asked whether the government would bring forward infrastructure products to stimulate the economy, Ardern said: "It's incredibly helpful that we have front-ended our 'New Zealand Upgrade' and that's $12 billion in infrastructure that we have focused on being as close to shovel ready as possible, so we've got a head start."
The OECD this week noted that stronger government investment, such as bringing forward capital or maintenance programmes, could provide short-term stimulus to economies disrupted by the virus outbreak.
National Party finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith today suggested the government set up a small-to-medium business support package, similar to earthquake support subsidies in wake of the Christchurch and Kaikoura quakes.
While covid-19 dominated the council meeting's discussions today, the business group was set up to consider long-term issues facing businesses.
Whineray said today's agenda items included KiwiSaver, the future of work for Maori and digital transformation plans for businesses and government.
The council was also considering the importance of New Zealand becoming predator-free by the year 2050. Whineray said that's a business issue because native flora and fauna are essential to the tourism industry, and exports.
The council has also started considering how to feed back skill requirements to schools to help students make better informed subject choices.
Members of the council include Westpac New Zealand chief executive David McLean, former ASB Bank boss Barbara Chapman, Jocelyn O'Donnell of Invercargill's family-owned HW Richardson and Maori food firm Kono's chief Rachel Taulelei.
Other members include New Zealand Steel chief Gretta Stephens, Bunnings NZ boss Jacqui Coombes, Fonterra chief executive Miles Hurrell, McKinsey & Co partner Andrew Grant, Xero's Anna Curzon and Rocket Lab's Peter Beck.
Former Air New Zealand chief Christopher Luxon chaired the council until he left the airline to pursue a career in politics. He has been selected as the National Party's candidate for the Botany electorate at this year's general election.