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Doing his bit...Police Constable Ben Grant was helping the hard-working staff at New World supermarket in Timaru on Tuesday stacking shelves. PHOTO: Amanda Hogan

by Chris Tobin

Local retailers were run off their feet as the start of the four-week coronavirus lockdown approached.

Timaru Resene ColorShop sales director Melanie Tracey watched as people flocked to the shop on Tuesday for their painting requirements in anticipation of the lockdown which began last night.

“It’s been absolutely crazy. Manic. We haven’t stopped since yesterday,” she said.

“The phone has been ringing for two days.”

Customers were observed queuing around Timaru in hardware shops, book retailing outlets, and supermarkets on Tuesday afternoon, as well as bottle stores, as people prepared to hunker down against what has been termed by United States president Donald Trump as “the invisible enemy”.

Yesterday, South Canterbury came to a halt with closed schools, factories, shops, cafes and bars. The exception at this stage have been major Timaru employers the Alliance Group meat plant, at Smithfield, and Silver Fern Farms, Pareora, which have continued operating.

Silver Fern Farms chief executive Simon Limmer and other meat industry officials were to meet the Ministry of Primary Industries and the Meat Industry Association yesterday to discuss operations.

“As things stand, we are considered to be an essential service and will continue to operate at Stage 4,” Mr Limmer said.

“However, the scope of our activities, and how we operate within our sites and offices, will continue to adapt to reduce the risk of spreading the disease.

“Our livestock team has been advised to only go on to farm if necessary for essential drafts and avoid personal client contact.

“We will be single-minded in continuing to operate our business safely and effectively in this unprecedented environment.”

Meanwhile, hospital visits have been restricted. Timaru Hospital, Talbot Park and the Kensington Centre have been allowing only one visitor per patient. Children under 16 were not permitted to visit. Medical authorities considered those most at risk were those aged from 70 upwards.

The Timaru District Council advised on Tuesday its bin collections would continue as normal until further notice.

All community facilities have been closed, including the district transfer stations at Temuka, Geraldine, Pleasant Point and the Redruth Resource Recovery Park. Many library services, including e-books and audiobooks, were available online.

The Waimate District Council said rubbish collection would go ahead as usual and continue through the Level 4 restrictions.

The Resource Recovery Park would remain open every Thursday during the restrictions from 10.30am to 4.30pm, until further notice. Up to three standard rubbish bags of household domestic waste (60 litres), would be accepted.

From yesterday, Timaru’s public transport was available only for people working in essential services, for medical reasons, and to get to the supermarket.

“We will be providing alternative services using the MyWay by Metro vehicles and call centre for people needing to travel for these reasons,” a Metro spokesman said.

“If, from Thursday on, you require public transport to get to work in essential services, or for medical reasons, or to get to the supermarket, please call us on 688 5544 to arrange this.

“To help protect our drivers, fares will not be required after Wednesday.

MP for Rangitata Andrew Falloon said his office had received a large influx of new casework, “particularly in relation to immigration visas expiring during the four-week isolation period, and a number of employers wanting to access the employee subsidy scheme”.

“I’d really encourage anyone whose business has been affected and will struggle to pay their staff to apply.

“The decision by the Finance Minister Grant Robertson to remove the $150,000 cap was the right call to make, particularly for businesses employing more than 20 people, who were facing the prospect of large lay-offs within weeks.

“That might still happen for some, but the package will at least keep more people employed for longer.”

Supermarkets are remaining remain open throughout the four-week shutdown.