Kia ora, Kevin, I have made some inquiries in regards to the issues you’ve raised and wanted to relay some thoughts as below.
More Direct Financial Support
I agree that it is undoubtable that its been a very tough period for a number of businesses. With the settings of the Covid Protection framework most businesses can open and operate relatively normally, even at red. The majority of the economy is operating close to normal, but I note that, in some sectors like hospitality and events, there has been a significant drop-off in business. This was why the Ministers introduced the COVID Support Payment. There’s now a higher threshold for revenue loss which was implemented in order to target those most affected. However, changes have also been made to the Small Business Cashflow Loans Scheme to increase the amount of funding available to eligible businesses through the introduction of a ‘top up’ loan. The top up loan will allow those firms that have already accessed a loan to draw down an additional $10,000 with a new repayment period of five years and the first two years being interest free. Cabinet has also agreed to remove the first two years of accrued base interest from all borrowers who have, or will, take out a loan under the scheme. The Ministers are also extending the Commissioner of Inland Revenue’s ability to apply flexibility for tax payment dates and terms to assist firms with cashflow pressures. The Ministers office suggests that any businesses struggling to pay tax because of the impacts of COVID should log on to myIR to see if they can delay starting payments to a later date, or if any part of the tax could be written off. IR can help with both GST and provisional tax due.
The Close Contact Exemption Scheme was enabled to keep critical supply chains operating through Omicron. Critical services include food production and its supply chain, key public services like health and emergency services, lifeline utilities such as power and water supplies, transport, critical financial services, news media and social welfare. It also includes human and animal health and welfare. The public health advice is that isolation is the best way to stop the chain of transmission so businesses and workers involved in the scheme will need to continue to play their part in reducing the spread of the virus by complying with daily symptom checks, and other health measures while at work. I understand that non-critical businesses are struggling, but the public health evidence suggests that while RAT are valuable for their practicality, they may have reduced reliability.
I recognise that things have changed significantly since your letter, so I am sure that you are glad to see the reopening of the borders. As I highlighted in my last email, the critical worker border exception for roles lasting longer than six months was widened by reducing the salary criteria to 1.5 times the median wage and removing the requirement to have skills not readily obtainable in New Zealand. These expanded settings will benefit a variety of sectors seeking to attract skilled workers, including early to mid-career professionals for roles in the tech sector, business and accounting services, education, construction and the primary industries. The Working Holiday Schemes will reopen in stages, with all uncapped schemes, which account for around three quarters of all working holidaymakers, opening for applications at 10am on Monday 14 March. Additionally, from 11.59pm Tuesday 12 April, Australians will be able to travel to New Zealand isolation-free, and then two and a half weeks later from 11.59pm Sunday 1 May, vaccinated travellers from visa-waiver countries such as the large tourist markets of the UK, US, Japan, Germany, Korea and Singapore, and those with valid visitor visas, will be able to arrive.
Easing of domestic restrictions
The Ministers office advised that the vaccine mandates and passes are currently being reviewed. The Government has already indicated that these will change in short order, as we come off the top of our Omicron peak. The Ministers are also expecting to make announcements about the way our Covid protection Framework works this week.