The Warehouse Group is in a trading halt. This follows an incorrect announcement that it issued to the NZX this morning.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment says The Warehouse Group has not been granted an exemption to trade during the mandatory four-week lockdown.

This morning the retail company, which operates store chains The Warehouse, Warehouse Stationery, Noel Leeming and Torpedo 7, issued a trading update to the stock exchange, saying that its 92 The Warehouse stores would remain open during the lockdown as it "provided a range of consumer goods essential for maintaining the wellbeing of people" such as food, groceries, cleaning items, toiletries and winter essentials.

Focus: Shoppers protect themselves with masks and gloves at Pakn'Save Paraparaumu. Video / Mark Mitchell

The Warehouse Group shares were up by as much as 42 per cent at one stage following the announcement this morning. They recently traded at $2.20, up 34 per cent.

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But Paul Stocks, deputy chief executive of MBIE, this afternoon clarified that this had not yet been decided.

"The Government has not decided that The Warehouse will be open, we are working through those firms that will be required or allowed to remain open," Stocks said during a press conference.

"I would caution firms from leaping to judgement about what their status will be before they have received adjudication from the Government."

If a business was in doubt about whether they were an essential service, then they were likely not one, he said.

The Warehouse issued a statement shortly before 4pm saying the trading halt on the company's shares followed an "agreement" with the NZX.

"There is considerable uncertainty around what meets the definition of essential businesses and which products and services they are able to provide."

The comapny said it was in discussions with government on what categories within The Warehouse will be available post escalation to COVID-19 Alert Level 4.

"The Group will make an announcement when there is better definition of this, and will then request the trading halt is lifted. It is expected that this will be by tomorrow morning."

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The Warehouse's update this morning sent the retail sector into a spin, and ignited debate on social media, with industry leaders left scratching their heads following the announcement, calling out claims of an unfair playing field.

Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford told the Herald the group's announcement was contrary to guidance it had received from the Government.

"It doesn't accord with the advice that I have seen coming out of Government," Harford said, adding that he was not aware of any provisions that had been granted for the company to continue to trade during that period.

The Warehouse has not responded to the Herald's requests for clarification.

Joan Withers, chairwoman of The Warehouse, contacted a source the Herald spoke to about the announcement and reportedly said the chain was able to remain open as it sold "food, toiletries and baby products".

Retail NZ says it is still awaiting clarity on which retailers and businesses would be able to remain open during the lockdown.

First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson said he believed it would be "inappropriate" for The Warehouse stores to remain open while similar stores would have to close.

"If The Warehouse is [able to] open then, by rights, Briscoes almost certainly should be open, and if Briscoes is open, where does that place the likes of Mitre 10 Mega and Bunnings who are also very strong [sellers] of resilience products," Wilkinson said.

"This creates an unfair playing field for other businesses who are all trying to do the right thing."

Briscoe Group managing director Rod Duke said The Warehouse's claims were different from the information he had received about essential and non-essential retailing.

"Are they just bluffing or reading different memos?," Duke questioned.

"The information that we have is that they considered themselves an essential service, not the Government."

Duke said it would be unfair if The Warehouse stores were able to remain open while similar stores were closed.

Duke said Briscoes would consider selling hygiene products and toiletries in its stores if it would permit his business to continue to operate during the lockdown period.

"They are as non-essential as we are," he said.

"It seems to me just a ridiculous situation. They sell a couple of baby products - that [will] still [be] available within supermarkets.

"If it means I have to put hand sanitiser and toilet paper in stores, if that's all [it takes], and I'm allowed to open. If the public and my staff want me to do it that way then, that's fine."

A petition was today created to ensure all non-essential large stores, citing The Warehouse, closed as part of the lockdown. It has garnered more than 15,000 signatures.

The Government has issued a list of 15 sectors that fall under its essential services criteria. More clarity on what is deemed an essential business is expected to be released later today.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website