Confusion around level four guidance has led to some Auckland businesses exploiting loopholes in the takeaway food rules.
As the rest of the country has moved down alert levels, Aucklanders have been forced to watch on social media as friends and family in luckier parts of Aotearoa sip on barista-made flat whites, line up within a cloud of eleven herbs and spices for a bucket from KFC, and slurp on fresh hand-pulled noodles.
Given the envy being felt by a still locked-down Tāmaki Makaurau, it’s understandable that many were excited to see local eateries offering frozen or packaged versions of their takeaway menus for delivery last week. The Spinoff is aware of a Thai takeaway chain, a barbecue restaurant, a fish and chip shop, an organic cafe and a health food business, all currently offering frozen or chilled meal delivery.
But are these takeaway operations actually breaking the rules?
While most of the guidance from the likes of business.govt.nz and the specific hospitality business page on the Unite Against Covid-19 website seems pretty conclusive that cooked meals, no matter what temperature they’re at, are off the table at level four, confusion has potentially stemmed from some poorly-worded advice from the Covid-19 website. Since the beginning of lockdown, the website said this:
“Food delivery, other than cooked meals such as takeaways, is allowed at Alert Level 4. This includes supermarket home delivery, food parcels from charitable organisations, frozen pre-prepared meals, subscription food boxes (like My Food Bag and Hello fresh) or any other whole-food delivery services”
When you pair this with the fact that it’s up to businesses to classify themselves within alert levels, this guidance does leave room for interpretation. Since being contacted by The Spinoff, the official website has been updated for clarity. As of yesterday, that section now reads:
“Food delivery from supermarkets, bakeries and uncooked food suppliers is allowed at Alert Level 4. This includes supermarket home delivery, uncooked food parcels from charitable organisations and subscription food boxes — for example, My Food Bag or Hello Fresh. You will not be able to get cooked food delivered — unless you have been referred to a cooked food delivery service by the Ministry of Social Development, a District Health Board, or ACC — for example, Meals on Wheels.”
On the updated rules, a spokesperson from MBIE said the key distinction in the Covid response order relates to the delivery of cooked and uncooked food. “Updates have been made to the Unite Against Covid-19 website to make this clear, and we apologise for any confusion that this may have caused.”
According to MBIE, these rules are intended to cut down on the risk of transmission in the community, so simply turning cooked meals into frozen meals doesn’t exactly align with their purpose. “Having non-essential businesses operating during alert level four increases the odds of transmission, with workers moving in and out of their home bubbles, connecting bubbles and therefore increasing the potential chain of infection,” the spokesperson said.
MBIE has clarified to the Spinoff that food delivery from supermarkets, bakeries, and uncooked food suppliers is allowed at alert level four. “This includes supermarket home delivery, uncooked food parcels from charitable organisations, and subscription uncooked food boxes (like My Food Bag and Hello Fresh),” they said.
However any cooked delivery is not allowed under level four. There is an exception when it comes to cooked food delivery services referred by the Ministry of Social Development, a District Health Board, or the Accident Compensation Corporation (for example, Meals on Wheels). Each of these can continue to deliver prepared food as they are an essential service for those with specific medical needs.
There’s no doubt that lockdown creates a financial strain on businesses, and that the changes to official advice would be frustrating for those seeking clarity on what they are allowed to do. But exploiting loopholes runs the risk of undermining the response to this outbreak. In its statement to The Spinoff, MBIE emphasised the importance of Aucklanders sticking to the rules. “Alert Level 4 is about people staying home to the greatest extent possible to reduce the risk of further transmission in the community,” the spokesperson said.
The takeaway loophole may be tempting to both business owners and those of us facing cravings in lockdown, but it’s worth remembering that not only could it compromise the health of both hospitality staff and the wider community, it might set Auckland even further back from joining the line at KFC.