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Covid-19

How Covid-19 (Coronavirus) has affected our lives

Just a few months ago nobody had heard of Covid-19.

But by the end of January this year, the world was on alert as the first reports of coronavirus were made. On January 27 New Zealand’s Ministry of Health said with 2000 international cases, it was taking the outbreak “extremely seriously”.

Now, less than three months after then-mysterious illness was first diagnosed, the novel coronavirus has infected more than 130,000 people and killed nearly 5000 internationally.

It’s had a huge impact on almost every area of our lives – from our finances to how we socialise. Here are just some of the effects from the virus being felt by Kiwis.

Pretty much immediately after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in New Zealand on February 28, Kiwis panicked.

The next day, hand sanitiser and toilet paper flew off supermarket shelves.

Meanwhile, a wholesale supermarket in Auckland temporarily closed due to “overwhelming customer demand”.

Countdown warned customers to expect deliveries to be delayed as online shopping surged.

Covid-19 causing supermarket shelves to be empty
Covid-19 causing supermarket shelves to be empty

Shortages

Unsurprisingly, due to Covid-19 panic-buying led to several essential items selling out.

Pharmacies soon had run out of hand sanitisers. Hardware stores limited sales of face masks as people stocked up.

The Government placed restrictions on paracetamol prescriptions ahead of an expected global shortage of the pain medication.

Some people used the shortages as an opportunity to make a quick buck by selling face masks and hand sanitisers at huge mark ups online.

Sustainability

Fearing reusable cups could aid the spread of Covid-19, some cafes, including McDonalds, have banned them for the foreseeable future.

Holidays

Some Kiwi travellers cancelled their trips as the virus spread across Asia, Europe, the Americas and the Pacific.

However, others snapped up airfares as low as $9 as airlines tried to soften the financial blow of the health crisis.

Air New Zealand reduced the number of flights it operated domestically, across the Tasman and to and from Asia.

Travel insurers have refused to pay out for coronavirus-related claims, leaving some travellers out of pocket.

An Auckland couple was forced to cut their dream European holiday short after Italy went into lock down and they were stuck in their hotel in Rome

On Wednesday, the prime minister warned people with health conditions considering taking an overseas cruise to change their plans.

Travel Industry

One of New Zealand’s most lucrative sectors, the travel industry has already taken a hit from travel restrictions in the US and Australia as well as locally.

International travellers not living in New Zealand who have been to China and Iran are no longer allowed to enter New Zealand.

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran volunteered to take a pay cut of $250,000 to cope with falling demand for flights because of Covid-19.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce promised to work for free for the rest of the financial period.

Flight Centre has announced plans to close 100 poorly performing stores in Australia as it expected to lose at least A$50 million in profit this year due to coronavirus.

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Socialising

Just days after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was safe for large events, including Auckland’s Pasifika Festival and the memorial for the March 15 terror attacks, to go ahead, Auckland mayor Phil Goff announced Pasifika would in fact be called off.

Contractors hired for the annual event were shocked to be left in the lurch less than 24 hours before it was set to kick off.

Several other events were also cancelled or postponed due to concerns about Covid-19.

The Piha Pro surfing competition featuring pro surfer Kelly Slater will no longer go ahead on Monday as planned.

US band My Chemical Romance was due to play at Western Springs on March 25 but have postponed the concert.

Work & Covid-19

Many have speculated that mass quarantines from coronavirus could cause working from home to become the norm.

Many New Zealand employees were reportedly keen on the arrangement.

Public sector bosses have already been told they must have “all the necessary arrangements in place now” to ensure their staff can work from home.

Health authorities told workers who were sick  Covid-19 infection to stay home.

However, while employers can encourage staff to stay home, they can’t force them to take sick leave, according to lawyer Peter Cullen.

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Back Pockets

For most New Zealanders, the most obvious effect of the downturn in the financial markets will be the impact on their KiwiSaver balances.

By the end of Friday, New Zealand’s share market had dropped nearly 20 per cent from its peak.

You won’t have your entire KiwiSaver portfolio in shares but it will have caused an uncomfortable slump in most people’s balances.

The good news is that as long as you don’t need the money soon, you don’t need to do anything. Your KiwiSaver manager will continue to invest in the markets and you’ll pick up more stocks at a discounted rate, giving you a balance boost when markets pick up again.

If you do need the money soon, you probably (hopefully) were already in a less risky fund with less exposure to the share market.

In terms of house prices, there are conflicting views on what Covid-19 will do.

On one hand, it’s likely to lead to lower interest rates, which tend to support higher prices.

But on the other, activity may slow significantly while people take a wait-and-see approach and remain reluctant to make any big financial decisions.

The Economy after Covid-19

Many economists are predicting New Zealand will enter a technical recession this year – two quarters of negative GDP growth.

This won’t be felt evenly across the country, though. You’ll most likely feel the impacts if you work in a business that’s exposed to tourism, or for an exporter affected by restrictions on the movements of people and freight.

It’s been suggested the Government could help some of these businesses stay afloat through the disruption, perhaps by granting them some leniency in their tax obligations.

BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander still expects unemployment to peak at no more than about 5 per cent. Businesses have been struggling for skilled staff and won’t want to let people go unless they have to.

It’s worth remembering that in terms of downturns, this is a bit different. There’s nothing structurally wrong with the market or the economy – it’s an external shock. That means, once Covid-19 clears, so too should the economic disruption.

The Election

In January the country was returning from its summer holiday.

By February 2, the border was closed to foreign nationals travelling from China. The same restriction was placed on Iran on February 28, and as of mid-March all travellers from Italy and South Korea are expected to isolate themselves for 14 days.

There has been no suggestion of a banning New Zealanders from leaving these shores.

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, the 2020 election looked destined to be a battle between Labour’s wellbeing Budget spend up or National’s promised tax cuts, with high employment and a lingering Serious Fraud investigation into NZ First providing the backdrop.

That’s changed now that coronavirus promises to dampen the country’s economy for the foreseeable future.

The result of the election may depend on which party or parties can best navigate through a recession, job losses, and slowly spreading health crisis.

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