A new survey reveals almost a fifth of central New Zealand businesses had no contingency planning in place whatsoever in the lead-up to the Covid-19 lockdown.

It also shows business confidence had plummeted to record lows even before the country reached alert level 4.

The survey was conducted by Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce and Business Central during the 15-day period before the Government moved to alerts levels 3 and 4.

It received 437 responses from members stretching from Gisborne and New Plymouth down to Nelson.

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The results showed their business expectations dropped to record low levels, with a net 60 per cent of respondents expecting the economy to be worse in 12 months' time.

Businesses' confidence in their own prospects, as well as the regional economy, also dropped over the quarter, with a net 13 per cent and 45 per cent of businesses saying things will be worse for their business and region over the next 12 months respectively.

Wellington Chamber and Business Central Chief Executive John Milford said the most concerning figure was that 17 per cent of respondents had no contingency planning in place.

"It's frightening, in some ways you'd say is it a bit Kiwi? You know, she'll be right?

"Maybe small to medium business have just focused on today or next week rather than giving enough focus to the next six months or 12 months", he said.

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

Treasury has warned New Zealand's unemployment rate could hit "double digits" as coronavirus hammers the country's economy.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has previously said it was too early to give a firm projection on the jobless rate.

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But he said unemployment will be in excess of 6.7 per cent – the jobless number after the global financial crisis.

The rate was 4 per cent at the end of December last year.

Milford said he had noticed the Government's language change in the past few weeks.

"It has moved into the realm of accepting the fact that we're going to see a significant amount of businesses not make it through this period, I think they're also reconciling themselves to the fact there will be a lot of people out of work and looking for jobs."

Milford acknowledged the lack of contingency planning from some businesses would be a tough lesson, and while they may make it through the lockdown period, they might not see through the recovery phrase.

Employment lawyer Barbara Buckett has previously urged business owners to keep staff redundancies as an absolute last resort, warning that the recovery from Covid-19 would be the hardest part of the economic fallout.