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Support local and buy New Zealand made – those are the messages newly appointed Otago Chamber of Commerce North Otago advisory committee chairman Simon Berry is pushing as the country moves to Alert Level 3 next week.

The Whitestone Cheese managing director has replaced Stephen Halliwell as chairman of the chamber’s North Otago committee.

While a strong primary sector would “soften the blow”, the Waitaki district’s economy was still taking a major hit from the Covid-19 lockdown, Mr Berry said.

“A lot of [businesses] are really battling to get through this period.

“It’s not pretty and a lot of them aren’t going to come through the other side.”

The Otago Chamber of Commerce and Waitaki District Council were in discussions about forming a post-Covid-19 task force made up of industry and community leaders.

But the most immediate and effective way people could support the local economy was to shop local, he said.

Moving to Alert Level 3 at 11.59pm on Monday gave a lot of local businesses the opportunity to start selling “non-essential” items again in a contactless way, and most local cafes and restaurants were developing home delivery and click-and-collect mechanics.

“[It is] a good small step forward. However, the wider retail and hospitality economy will not be able to operate in a sustainable way until we are moved to Level 2,” he said.

Level 3 also allowed for the construction and building industry to get back to work.

“They can get on and pay their contractors and staff, which is a welcome relief for community cash flow,” he said.

Business owners and operators had to start preparing for Level 2 now so they could hit the ground running when it came into effect, Mr Berry said.

“The key restriction is social distancing and safe hygiene practices, plus keeping a log of customers for contact traceability.

“These mechanics at Level 2 will allow businesses a potential level of revenue to achieve some positive cash flow, therefore beginning the climb out of negative positions.”

Mr Berry said the district needed to switch its tourism focus to the domestic market and the council’s pursuit of Unesco Global Geopark status should be ceased immediately.

“We need the locals to be coming into our town more, too,” he said.

“There’s even more reason now to invest in that town revitalisation programme. We have to make it attractive for people to come in to visit.”

Waitaki was well placed to become a domestic tourism mecca.

“We can build on our penguin colony and our nature aspect – the Moeraki boulders, the coast, the Alps 2 Ocean [cycle trail],” he said.

“These are fantastic assets that we can just build on.”