The government may not have offered up any new financial support to businesses as it announced the inevitability of omicron sweeping through the country, but it did have advice.

Finance minister Grant Robertson said there was “a very high degree of uncertainty” for businesses at the moment.

“So, we're just urging businesses firstly to make sure that their workers get boosted as quickly as possible. Secondly, to have those business continuity plans in place and obviously, we're working with the essential ones around the test to work approach.”

More announcements will be made on Wednesday about the public health response to omicron. The government’s announcement lacked detail about the supply and access to rapid antigen tests that many consider will be necessary as omicron cases rapidly increase.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said there will be three phases.

Phase one will include the period where there are up to 1,000 cases a day.

“We expect this scenario in the initial stages of the outbreak, and to last for up to 14 days,” Ardern said.

Stage two will be a transition stage where the system focuses more on identifying those who are at greater risk of severe illness from omicron which will be a smaller percentage of cases.

At the third stage, when cases are in the thousands, there will be changes to contact tracing, the definition of contacts and isolation requirements.

Details of this stage of the outbreak will be provided on Wednesday, but Arden does not believe the country will be at this stage for a few weeks.

“Through the course of each stage, we have a test to work regime that will apply to our essential workforces, to keep them going through the outbreak,” Ardern said.

Ardern, like Robertson, said people and businesses should prepare, but not panic.

Official government advice to businesses is to prepare for potential workforce shortages, due to staff being sick or needing to self-isolate, and supply chain issues.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) suggests a number of steps.

Reduce the risk of covid-19 infections at your business

Understand the covid-19 Protection Framework and how it affects your business. Follow all the rules, including physical distancing, face coverings, displaying Covid Tracer posters and encouraging people to scan or sign in, and checking and verifying My Vaccine Passes, where required.

COVID-19 Protection Framework overview

  • Support employees to get vaccinated, including booster shots.
  • Consider using the vaccination assessment tool to determine whether it should be done by vaccinated people if not covered by vaccination mandates.
  • Encourage healthy habits in the workplace – including reviewing and updating hygiene, cleaning, and ventilation practices, and ensure they are being followed.
  • Ensure staff stay at home if they are sick. Ask them to call the Healthline number 0800 358 5453 for advice and to arrange to get tested. The covid-19 Short-Term Absence Payment provides financial support for businesses whose staff cannot work from home while waiting for a test result.

Have a plan for covid-19 cases affecting your business

Plan ahead for ways to continue to operate if workers have to self-isolate or get sick.

  • Have staff work from home where appropriate – and continue to test systems so working from home is as seamless as possible.
  • Consider dual rosters – eg blue team, red team – to limit the number of staff interacting.
  • Put together a continuity and contingency plan.
  • Involve workers in discussions on how roles, responsibilities and ways of working might need to change, drawing on collective experiences.
  • Think of ways to operate with less staff if necessary – such as reduced hours, a reduced service (such as moving to takeaways or click and collect-style sales), or prioritising what work is most important, and what can be delayed.
  • Engage early with temporary workforce providers in case additional workers are needed.
  • Record important processes and knowledge, so other workers can pick tasks up if someone is unable to work. Consider who has responsibility or authorisation for various aspects of your business, such as banking authorities, or authorisation to speak to suppliers or utilities. If that work is unable to occur, what are the implications for your business and its ability to continue to operate as usual? Do you need to assign (and train) backup staff with the appropriate authority to take over those tasks?
  • Review finances and understand cashflow. Engage credit providers, such as your bank, early to discuss ways you might manage cashflow if an outbreak affects your business.

Consider other businesses you deal with, and how they might be affected by covid-19 cases

If your business relies on other businesses’ products or services, consider talking to them about their continuity and contingency plans. How they plan to respond could affect your own plans.

Questions include:

  • How do they plan to deal with staff absences?
  • How will they maintain the supply of services or goods to you if they are under-staffed?
  • Should you allow longer lead times for orders, or order more frequently?
  • If you have a particular staff member from a supplier who your business relies on heavily, who is the backup point of contact?
  • If your supplier has limited capacity, will you be one of the customers who they continue to supply?

Businesses might want to contact customers and share plans. Understanding their plans could also help anticipate changes in demand, timeframes or tailoring services and products to match any changes.

Have a plan for communicating with workers and customers

  • Think about how you will communicate with staff – are staff contact details up to date?
  • Make sure they know where to find the most up to date health advice, and consider ways to support them, such as a regular phone call and offers of assistance. Do any of your staff have particular needs eg, health conditions or dependents that will require different support?
  • How are you going to inform customers, providers, or clients about any contact with a covid-19 case they might need to be aware of, or if you must change your operations due to the availability of workers? Up to date databases are important and social media or email newsletters may also be useful tools.
  • In all cases, consider how you protect people’s privacy. Names and medical information must not be shared.

Financial support

The Covid-19 Short-Term Absence Payment is available for businesses, including self-employed people, to help pay their employees who cannot work from home while they wait for a covid-19 test result.

The Covid-19 Leave Support Scheme is available to employers, including self-employed people, to help pay their employees who have been advised to self-isolate because of covid-19 and cannot work at home during that period.

Covid-19 financial support for employers — Work and Income

Contact tracing in workplaces

The Ministry of Health has guidance for what to do if your workplace has a case of covid-19, including information on contract tracing and communicating with employees and customers.

Guidance for workplaces that have a case of covid-19 Ministry of Health.

Cleaning and disinfecting

There is advice on cleaning and disinfecting during covid-19 on the Ministry of Health’s website.

Covid-19: General cleaning and disinfection advice Ministry of Health