Finance Minister Grant Robertson has told business leaders that a lowering of Covid-19 restrictions will be about eliminating the virus but will consider how it is impacting the economy.

On Wednesday afternoon Robertson spoke to the BusinessNZ major companies group on a video conference.

The Government has indicated that Cabinet will decide on Monday whether to lower the current Covid-19 response level from four to three on April 22, in a bid to restart parts of the economy.

So far there is little clarity about what that will mean practically or what parts of the economy will be allowed to reopen.


Robertson said that on Thursday the Government will release guidance on "how businesses could operate under reduced alert levels and what measures need to be taken for them to do so".

The Government had learned lessons from when it moved up the safety levels in March, and will provide principles and examples to help companies work out how the rules will apply to them.

"What I can say now is that our emphasis at level 3 moves from 'essential' economic activity to 'safe' economic activity," Robertson said.

"I am aware of the work that businesses large and small are doing to change their way of working to operate in as safe a way as possible so we can allow as much activity as possible. The critical questions are: is it possible for your business to have social distancing? Can you build in contact tracing tools or mechanisms to keep track of your supply chain and customers?"

Since signalling a possible move to a lower alert level, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned against complacency, and that there was no certainty the alert level would drop.

Robertson told BusinessNZ that any change in alert level "will be made within the context of an elimination strategy for COVID-19" and Cabinet's primary focus would be whether Dr Ashley Bloomfield was confident that the disease is under control.

"But I can also assure you that Cabinet will consider evidence of the impact of current containment measures on the economy and wider society," Robertson said.

"The economic modelling released by the Treasury yesterday will help inform this decision, but I would caution that the path the economy takes from here remains extremely uncertain."


Treasury documents outlined a range of scenarios for New Zealand's economy as it copes with the restrictions put in place to cope with Covid-19.

Under even a best case scenario, unemployment would rise to close to 10 per cent, while a lengthy lockdown under tight restrictions could see unemployment climb above 20 per cent.

"These scenarios back our decision to go hard and go early in the fight against COVID-19 because the quicker we stamp it out, the quicker the economy can recover," Robertson said.

"The longer we waited, the more cases and deaths New Zealand would have had."

Roberton's speech ran through some of the already announce initiatives, with Robertson joking that after years of restraint, he had approved $20 billion in spending in three weeks.

But May's Budget will be a "recovery Budget" Robertson said.

"It will include funding for the cost pressures that are necessary part of keeping our country ticking over.

"But we will devote much of our resources to kickstarting this recovery. We will do this through the lens of the intergenerational wellbeing of our people and with the long term adjustments we need to make in our sights."

MORE TO COME The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website