24 March 2020
Number of covid19 cases in Aotearoa New Zealand: 102
As of 11.59 on Thursday, most of New Zealand will go into “lock down”. People will be expected not to travel to work; not to socialise; and to stay home.
I will not be one of those people.
I work in a health-related industry and as such, have the questionable privilege of staying at work; helping those who rely on me; and not “hunkering down” with the majority of my fellow New Zealanders in the (relative) safety of their homes.
Which is ok. As I told one of my colleagues when our Prime Minister informed the country we were heading for DefCon 3, and later, DefCon4; “Now we really start to earn our pay...”
For most of Monday, we were busy contacting our clients; liaising with family members; and awaiting instructions. Much of what we accomplished we did using common sense; initiative; and a bit of slow, measured panic.
Our clients will be safe. They will be in lock-down. My colleagues and I have their backs.
As for our own vulnerability to this creeping, invisible, global horror… We don’t think about that. Best not to.
This morning, as I scrolled through my Twitter feed for the latest info on covid-19, I came across something which not only shocked me deeply – but which left me exasperated and utterly disgusted. This;
An unattributed statement to the NZX said;
“At this stage, it is more important than ever that we live up to our purpose of helping Kiwis live better every day by making sure that we show up for our communities in the way that they need.
In the past two weeks the group has seen unprecedented demand for essential items across all our brands. Goods sold included essential items to prepare themselves for the mandatory isolation period of at least four weeks.”
Pejman Okhovat, CEO of The Warehouse said in a statement on 24 March;
“We’re encouraged by the Government’s continued efforts to protect the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders. Today we wanted to let you know that The Warehouse stores and online site will remain open, with modifications, to ensure that you can continue to get the essentials and supplies you need.
We have always been there for our customers and communities when needed, and our team is doing everything possible to make sure that continues. This includes continuing to provide essential products such as groceries, toiletries, winter essentials, blankets, clothing, stationery for home schooling and work from home needs. Our online stores will also continue operating to provide those at home and essential businesses with contactless delivery.
We are very proud of our team and the way they have cared for customers, themselves, and their families during this time. Our team members will continue to do everything possible to help keep The Warehouse stores safe for everyone. These modifications will include more frequent and thorough sanitisation of our stores, and strict personal hygiene guidelines being followed by all.”
“Our stores are open, with modifications
You will be able to get the essentials and supplies you need from your local The Warehouse store, whether you’re coming into the store or completing a Click & Collect order. We are practicing social distancing, and will be limiting the numbers of people in store.
We are looking after our team members
We are protecting our team members with increased health and safety requirements. Our commitment to ensuring nobody misses out goes beyond being adequately stocked for customers. We value our team members and we have introduced a new COVID-19 care package for our team members, including the ability to apply for additional paid discretionary leave.”
It was mostly rubbish. Very little of Mr Okhovat’s claims of “social distancing, limiting the numbers of people in store“, “strict personal hygiene guidelines“, “modifications“, etc, were true.
How do I know this?
Because I went and looked.
This morning (24 March), I visited “Red Sheds” at Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt, Petone, and Tory St. What I saw disturbed me profoundly and demonstrated the emptiness of the Chief Executive’s assurance.
In Upper Hutt…
There was uncontrolled entry to the store;
There were signs referring to two-metred tapes on the floor. But how well they stood out with all the other, similar-coloured signage, is questionable;
The tapes on the floor, by themselves, meant nothing;
Aside from which, customers in the narrow aisles – which are not two metres wide – meant theys were practically rubbing elbows when they passed each other;
The Lower Hutt Warehouse. Again, uncontrolled entry. Can you spot the covid-19 sign?
The covid-19 sign, to the right of the entryway;
The much larger Bag Search sign, on the left;
The self-checkouts were not two metres apart. Nor was there evidence of “frequent and thorough sanitisation” promised by the CEO. Customers were using the checkouts one after another;
Meanwhile, another retailer in the Westgate Mall, was doing things much differently. Entry was controlled; staff were wearing masks; ‘social’ distancing requested;
At the Petone Warehouse, entry was controlled;
But those queuing in line were hardly two metres apart;
Unfortunately, the staffer at the door (pictured above) was more concerned with me recording the event than the futility of people queuing in line in close proximity to each other.
At Tory Street, in downtown Wellington, Warehouse staffers were controlling entry but the queuing customers were yet again in close proximity to one another;
And inside, at all checkouts, there was no evidence of queuing customers standing two metres apart;
Whatever “assurances” Warehouse executives were issuing to the public were in stark contrast to the reality. Safety precautions were non-existent or inconsistent. The layout of the stores have not been modified. Aisles were still narrow, forcing customers to close proximity to each other.
Their was no evidence of any form of sanitisation taken place.
In effect, for The Warehouse it was business-as-usual.
It is concerning the The Warehouse believes itself to be an “essential service”. It is not. It’s grocery line is a side-line to its product lines and would run out of stock faster than supermarkets. Aside from which, its food line is limited to little more than what a superette might provide.
It is clear that the company is “trying it on”. At a time when a disaster is threatening the entire country, a bunch of executives thought it would be a clever idea to capitalise on and exploit people’s fears. As First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson put it;
“If The Warehouse is [able to] open then, by rights, Briscoes almost certainly should be open, and if Briscoes is open, where does that place the likes of Mitre 10 Mega and Bunnings who are also very strong [sellers] of resilience products. This creates an unfair playing field for other businesses who are all trying to do the right thing”
Damn right it does. Imagine if all other stores closed, with only The Warehouse remaining open? That would not just constitute market dominance, but a near 100% monopoly.
Briscoe’s managing director Rod Duke probably summed it up best;
“We were not given any indication by anyone that if we chose to sell hand sanitizer and toilet paper we’d be allowed to open… and at the end of the day I think I’m a bit more interested in the safety and wellbeing of my staff rather than a few sales of toilet rolls.”
Not only would that create a monopoly position, but the nationwide lock-down would end up leaking like a sieve.
You have to wonder if New Zealanders are so barking shopping-mad that they would endanger themselves and others to pursue their recreational retail activties?
It is beyond belief that so many people thought this could possibly be a good idea. Having supermarkets open is enough of a risk without adding another retail chain to the mix.
In fact, why have a lock down at all?
Why should my clients have to lock down?
Why should I care about my job to help others, facing a virus that – because of my own diabetes and age group – puts me in the vulnerable group?
All so a bunch of self-entitled company executives can make a lucrative profit and a bunch of shopping-nuts can pretend the current pandemic doesn’t exist?!
As for the notion that The Warehouse will be providing winter goods to families in need – oh please spare me the hypocrisy. They are not providing something for nothing. They are selling goods.
The number of times families in need are used as an excuse by unscrupulous business interests has become a sick cliche.
Unsurprisingly, The Warehouse’s shares rose 42% at one stage today. How cynical can a corporate entity be, to be trading on a disaster to maximise their value?
If New Zealanders want to thumb their noses at the worst pandemic since the 1918 influenza, so be it.
They can climb over the corpses of their countrymen and women to stand in line to go shopping. Hopefully all those people who thought this was a good idea will be the first to go. (Gives whole new meaning to the old phrase, “Shop till you drop!”)
In the meantime, I will carry on with my duties. I have little choice in the matter. In the following four weeks, my movements will be restricted to working with my clients and the risk of doing their supermarket purchases for them. I have to go out and hope no one coughs or sneezes at me. Or I forget not to touch my face, just once. Or I miss a spot when washing my hands.
It’s the same with my colleagues, and others in the health sector, police, etc.
If the Warehouse went ahead with its lunatic idea, my job would be that much harder. The risk that the disease spreads further, engulfing me and other healthcare workers would escalate. In fact, it would be inevitable.
Did I mention that because my partner works elsewhere, and we live apart, I won’t be seeing her for four weeks? But as long as The Warehouse can make a ‘killing’ with its profits… Well, that’s disaster capitalism working as it should, I guess.
I wonder if The Warehouse Group senior executives will be self-isolating whilst their staff are at risk of infection. “Take one for the Team”, eh?
Good on ya, Warehouse. You just managed to make Simon Bridges look good.
24 March 2020
Number of covid19 cases in Aotearoa New Zealand: 155
This afternoon (24 March), I put the following questions to the media team at The Warehouse;
I understand that The Warehouse intends to keep its outlets open for the duration of the Level 4 lock down, as you consider yourselves an “essential service”?
Please advise how you intend to address the following;
1. Social distancing in the aisles of Warehouse outlets, most of which are far less than 2 metres width?
2. Social distancing in queues outside main doors, where people tend to clump together?
3. Keeping products clean after customers have picked up and touched them? The covid19 virus is estimated to live for 2 to 3 days on varying surfaces. How will this be addressed?
4. Will The Warehouse sell only essential goods (grocery items) or will customers be able to shop for any products they wish?
At the time of publication, I have received no response.
The government has rejected The Warehouse’s plans.
The Warehouse: An update from us on COVID-19 (Coronavirus)
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