Death threats and trolling appear to be par for the course for some businesses staying open during the lockdown - even though they've received explicit permission from the Government.

Bernadette "Bets" Gee of the popular sweet treats business Magnolia Kitchen says she and many other small business owners deemed to be provided essential services have received abuse online since the lockdown started.

In an Instagram post labelled "Essential food for thought", Gee said she had received death threats and abusive messages hoping she caught coronavirus.

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Gee's first reaction had been to lay low and "not feed the trolls" - but a conversation with another small business owner had changed her outlook.

"Standing up to bullies so others suffering the same abuse in silence don't feel so alone should be more important that 'laying low' and not speaking up," she said.
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"Most of my friends are small business owners and have all experienced online bullying on some level during lockdown."

Gee's cafe in the Auckland suburb of Silverdale is shut but she is continuing to send out essential goods ordered online, such as baking kits, and she also stocks stores around New Zealand.

Bets Gee of sweet treat maker Magnolia Kitchen says she's received death threats for staying open as an essential business. File photo / Babiche Martens
Bets Gee of sweet treat maker Magnolia Kitchen says she's received death threats for staying open as an essential business. File photo / Babiche Martens

The caker told the Hits her business had been given the green light to trade by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

She believed a lot of the abuse was coming from fear and misinformation about what service she was performing.

"You look at my Instagram feed, you see beautiful cakes, you assume that's what my business is."

Some commenters on Gee's Instagram posts have argued her products are not essential.

"But what do you turn to when you're upset or going through a hard time - you pick up a bar of chocolate or some sweet treats or a box of fudge," Gee said.

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According to MBIE essential food businesses include those involved in the packaging, production and processing of food products, Gee pointed out.

"If we are trusting [the Government] with our lives and to make the rules why are we not trusting their rulings?"

An example of a post from Magnolia Kitchen's Instagram.
An example of a post from Magnolia Kitchen's Instagram.

Gee has blocked about 500 people online in the past fortnight, and after posting about the issue online numerous other small businesses had reached out to say they were also receiving abuse.

"Some people are even closing because of the bullying, because they can't handle the attacks that they're receiving...These are businesses that are trying to stay alive at a time when everyone is in danger of going bankrupt."

The Herald has been inundated with messages from members of the public dobbing in businesses suspected of operating outside the rules - including Kmart stocking fake tan and bath slime.

Some tradies have also been accused of defying the lockdown to carry out non-essential jobs like installing a dishwasher.

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