Jane Phare ventures out, with mask, to the seaside suburb of St Heliers to find out how local businesses are doing.
An air of resignation pervades St Heliers village in Auckland after last night's shock announcement. Covid-19 is back, somehow, somewhere. Here we go again.
The queues outside the bakeries, fruit and vege shops, and pharmacies are back as are bottles of hand sanitiser and contact-tracing clipboards. But there's still an air of disbelief. Only the elderly are wearing masks and there's no social distancing in the queues.
Every carpark is full and cafes are doing brisk business in the morning, the last chance for a brunch catch-up with friends for who knows how long.
At French restaurant La Fourchette, owners Romain and Natalie Le Gal are hoping for good news by the weekend but, like other business owners in the village, suspect there won't be.
Last time, they struggled through after the country came out of level 4, selling takeaway pizzas, crepes and coffees in level 3. But being unable to sell their core products - alcoholic drinks, entrees, mains and desserts - business was down by at least 80 per cent.
Romain Le Gal shrugs when asked about the situation he now finds himself in, faced with once again running a takeaway business. "It will be okay I guess."
He doesn't blame anyone. Where he's from in Brittany, a popular tourist area, people flocked to the beach for their summer break and Covid is rife over there. Everyone has to wear masks.
He thinks Auckland suburban businesses will do better than their city counterparts, buoyed by local support, customers who don't want to venture far. He's worried about his other two cafes, La Petite Fourchette in the Britomart and Wynyard Quarter.
Britomart relies on foot traffic from office workers, now working from home, shoppers and people attending Vector Arena events. Wynyard Quarter is the unknown. The apartment residents will still be there and some construction workers, but the office workers won't be.
Last time the Le Gals managed to keep paying their 30 staff across the three businesses, with the help of the wage subsidy. They're hoping they'll be able to do the same this time round.
Romain Le Gal dreads being forced back into level 4. "It sucks. If we stay on level 3, it's probably not good but we can stay open and sell takeaways."
Level 2 would be ideal, he says. At least they will be able to reopen the doors.
"But I don't think we will go back to level 1."
He's getting ready for the long haul. One of the first things he did was buy 50 face masks for his staff and family from a pharmacy. It cost him $150 but with a business to run, and level 3 planning to do, he didn't have time to queue at a supermarket for a cheaper option.
Right now, it's hard to know what to plan for. "We'll do our best to get through."
His wife says they need to be cautious. "We don't want to be over promise what we can deliver to staff until we know what's going to happen."
Upstairs on the restaurant's mezzanine level there's a mini creche in action. The Le Gals' two young children are up there with the children of the chef and the restaurant manager.
With schools, daycares and kindies shut, there's nowhere else for them to go with parents working in a food business.
When I leave, Romain shakes my hand but Natalie withdraws hers, offering me an elbow and a laugh instead. Old habits.
Round the corner on the beachfront side, Susan Cho is answering the phone – regulars cancelling their bookings. She's run Annabelle's for more than 20 years, building up a loyal local following. For now, the restaurant is closed but she'll look to open as a takeaway making coffees during the day and doing a limited takeaway dinner menu in the evenings.
Last time during level 3 her husband hopped in the car with restaurant staff and delivered meals to elderly clients who did not want to leave their homes.
Her customers were happy, she says, but business was down by 80 per cent. It was only thanks to the wage subsidy she managed to pay her 20 full-time and part-time staff. This time, she says, she doesn't know what will happen. It's too early to tell.
"It's very disappointing, very sad. Slowly we have been getting better and now another shock. It's a very hard time."
Round the corner in St Heliers' main street every carpark is full even though several retail stores have not opened. The library, too, is shut. The local superette has sold out of bread so there's a queue outside Baker's Delight.
One pharmacy sold out of face masks - $3 each and limited to 10 per customer – by mid morning. Another sold out by early afternoon.
Cafes were doing brisk brunch business, a last chance to meet friends before the village is back to a few takeaway outlets.
In the St Heliers Home Cookery Betsy Subritzky and her staff are flat out selling coffees, pies, sandwiches and cakes. They're masked up and the hand sanitiser is back on the table outside.
They're only allowing two customers in at a time. They ran a brisk takeaway business last time, keeping on all nine bakery and counter staff. Subritzky says the bakery's owner didn't claim the wage subsidy, preferring to leave it for those who needed it more.
In Moreton's Bar & Restaurant, owner Jamie Mackenzie has a resigned air as he and a staff member stack furniture in the deserted bar. They're closed until Saturday at least and who knows after that.
"We've just got to keep positive," he says. "No one expected this, well, I didn't. I don't blame anyone. We did everything we possibly could."
During the last lockdown it was tough. Mackenzie, who's owned the Moreton's since 2008, kept all his 18 staff on with the help of the wage subsidy. He didn't apply for the second wage subsidy because the business was trading above the threshold.
If bars are allowed to reopen, he'll follow all the guidelines much like last time. Another wage subsidy will be "very useful" if level 3 continues.
"And hopefully we'll get through to the summer."