The government has estimated 350,000 people at once could be self-isolating during this Omicron outbreak, with representatives from the retail sector warning of serious staff and goods shortages as a result.
Here we chat to Greg Harford, Chief Executive of industry body Retail NZ, about what the Red Traffic Light setting means for retailers and shoppers, and get his advice for business owners on how to best manage the impact of Omicron on staff operations and shortages.
What does the Red Traffic Light setting mean for retailers?
For retailers, it’s good news that the Red level of the traffic light system is not a lockdown. All businesses can remain open, subject to health rules, and customers can keep coming into store. General retailers and takeaway food outlets can remain open, but customers and customer-facing staff must wear masks. Maximum customer numbers are dictated by the size of your store (one person for every two square metres). You can implement a Vaccine Pass requirement if you wish, but it is not compulsory.
Close contact services (e.g. hair and beauty) and cafés can open, but masks are mandatory for staff and customers; and you must operate the Vaccine Pass system. There is a limit of 100 customers at a time. If you do not operate a Vaccine Pass system, you are unable to open, but can offer takeaway services.
What does this mean for shoppers?
Shoppers can keep heading out to stores, and Retail NZ is encouraging them to do so. It is important that customers and workers wear masks when they are in shops. It is a legal requirement – but more importantly is as key way we can stop the spread of Covid-19.
What are some of the main concerns members have raised with you at this setting, and how can they best limit the impact Omicron will have on their operations?
The big challenge is going to be managing staffing levels as Omicron spreads through the community. This might mean that some stores need to reduce their operating hours or even close for a period if staff are sick or need to self-isolate. Options to help manage the impacts include work bubbles, encouraging vaccinations and boosters for your staff, ensuring mask use and high levels of hygiene in store. You may also wish to consider bringing casual employees on to help if team members are unable to operate. This will be particularly important if, for example, you have animals or plants in-store that need to be cared for. It’s a great idea to be communicating what’s happening to your customers, so that they know what to expect.
There may be some supply chain challenges if distribution centres are impacted by Omicron; so plan ahead and talk to your suppliers about contingency arrangements.
What’s your message to shoppers over the next few weeks?
Retail NZ is asking shoppers to Shop Normal and Shop Nice over the next few weeks. There are going to be challenges as Omicron rolls through the nation, but everyone in retail will be doing their best to provide great products and great services to meet customer needs during a difficult time. There’s no need to stockpile, and please stay patient if things are different to usual.