Operators in New Zealand plotted a move to shift retail outlets to a no-contact set-up to enable provision of essential services during a month-long lockdown ordered by the government to hinder the spread of Covid-19 (coronavirus), an industry group revealed.

Vodafone New Zealand, Spark and 2degrees, among others, aim to implement the approach to enable stores to provide handsets, modems and replacement SIMs, the New Zealand Telecommunications Forum stated.

The industry group said the goverment clarified any entity providing “maintenance and repair services for utilities and communications, including their supply chains, is an essential service”, meaning the operators’ outlets are exempt from prohibitions.

Geoff Thorn, CEO of the trade body, said operators would ensure the model is only used in the case of a genuine connectivity need.

“Customers need hardware to remain connected to friends and family and to work from home during the lockdown.” With disruption to courier services likely, “implementing a purely online delivery solution could still leave people disconnected for days”, Thorn said.

Keep connected
“While the details are still being confirmed, in practice this would mean that while stores would remain closed to foot traffic, they will act as distribution sites for a no-contact pick-up by the customer. We are taking the time to get the model right, to ensure we are protecting the health and safety of the people who will be operating the retail stores.”

Thorn added the industry aimed to “maintain strict adherence to the lockdown” by ensuring there was no contact between people.

The government also announced its emergency mobile alert system will be activated this evening (25 March), with all capable mobile phones on all networks to receive a broadcast alert reminding people the country is going into lockdown at midnight.

Vodafone’s stores closed yesterday, and Spark and 2degrees outlets will close today.