At 11.59pm on Wednesday, New Zealand will go into full lockdown as the country moves into level 4 of the Covid-19 alert system.

Moving to level 4 was the Government's "primary focus" because "the health of the people and the nation is paramount," Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor told The Country's Jamie Mackay.

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Covid-19 coronavirus: What will alert level 4 mean for New Zealand?

"What we're trying to do here is get ahead of this virus and stop the spread."

Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor. Photo / Supplied
Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor. Photo / Supplied

Some businesses would remain open during alert level 4 as they were considered essential industries and this included food and beverage producers, O'Connor said.

"Of course we need food and, of course, we produce a lot of it. So the question is whether we could differentiate what is domestic production with export and it's very difficult and we're in biological systems and seasons and so we've decided that food production and beverage is an essential service and essential industry."

Mackay asked what this could mean for meat-processing companies that were currently working together to tackle Covid-19.

"Of course we would like to keep you operating but if your business or your sector can't guarantee that it can prevent the spread of the virus then we have to close you down," said O'Connor.

"If we are to remain open then we've got to make sure that we've got the right protocols in place and it is keeping people apart - if you're in a packhouse that's going to be a challenge - but if you can't do that, then you simply can't operate."

Read more: Damien O'Connor answered further questions about essential services the following day on The Country.

While it was "fairly clear" how some core areas were to operate, the Government was looking into other service sectors such as tractor repairs, fertilising and shearing, said O'Connor.

"Those are things we're working through at the moment to give clear protocols."


So what does this mean for Kiwi farmers and which agricultural services are considered essential? Mackay opened up The Country's text machine so listeners could ask O'Connor directly.

What is happening with livestock sales. Will everything go online?

O'Connor: I've had a very late night discussion last night about sales. No, I don't think they can go ahead. We do have online trading. Still the vast majority of animals are traded through saleyards and I know [PGG] Wrightsons are working on that right now to upgrade the system of online trading so that where animals do need to move - and we accept there's some pressure on feed, there's the normal flow of animals - and some of that can't be delayed for four weeks.

So where needed we hopefully will have clear protocols and a better system of online trading that farmers can trust.

In the end it may not be a perfect system to maximise the value of your livestock but it may be a way of getting value for your livestock, shifting them on, and making sure that your farming system can continue.

Listen below:

I'm a hedge-trimmer. Are we still OK to operate? Is that still an essential service?

O'Connor: No.

Are contractors still able to drill crops for farmers and make supplement feed?

O'Connor: That's an interesting [question]. That's at the tricky part of it. We understand the seasonal nature. Some of that might have to be delayed.

What will be required is that anyone applying will have to register as a company and be able to prove that they can mitigate all the risks.

That's a very good question and it's one of the things that's under active consideration. The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website
What about fencing contractors?

O'Connor: No. I mean that's just logical. That is, they can't continue. If a farmer can't fix their own fences over the next four weeks they shouldn't be in farming. No - it's not essential, it can be delayed.

What's the point of orchard workers staying two metres apart during the work day then travelling home squashed into a car or van?

O'Connor: That's exactly what we will be talking to the industry [about]. They can't do that. They will have to work on options for transport that mitigate this risk.

So we've said to those high-risk industries that all those large numbers of people - when they go home we have to be assured that they won't then mix inappropriately and then bring the disease back into the workplace.

So it's not just about the workplace. If we're to continue as an essential service we have to be mindful of people and what they do 24 hours a day.

What about housing orchard workers in campervans?

O'Connor: Some are already housed on orchards and that's great. A number are in houses, many of them are peopled together - not an ideal situation - but we have accepted that hopefully with the ability to mitigate the risk that we want to get the crops off.

It's a seasonal pressure. That's why we've allowed horticulture to be. We can't eat all the fruit or the grapes that we're going to harvest so I guess from a core essential perspective we don't need that for the health of New Zealanders - but we do understand that there's a need to get the crops off now to ensure that we have some viability to the systems as we work through this.

But we have to emphasise that those businesses and those sectors have to do the right thing.

Can I go hunting and fishing?


No. Just stay at home. I mean there's a very clear message across the world, internationally - stay at home.

The only reason that we're allowing people to move from home is for essential services.

What about a farrier - in terms of animal welfare?

O'Connor: No. You don't have to shoe a horse ... the vets will be available for acute animal welfare issues. We understand that - but someone like a farrier - of course they're dealing with the horses but also with people and that's not essential.

Digger drivers?

O'Connor: Same thing.

How about rural postal services?

O'Connor: Yes couriers and post will continue. We need to communicate and I think that our inability to go and knock on the door and visit someone means that we do have to keep the lines of communication open.

This is going to be a tough time for people and I'd suggest in the cities it's going to be worse when people are locked up in their houses with their families. At least we have a little bit of space in the rural areas, that's some consolation.

But we're in isolated areas so looking out for one another, communicating as best we can is really important.