People at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19

Advice for people with underlying medical conditions and some older people who are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Advice for people at higher risk

People are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 if they are older or have an underlying medical condition. When you leave the house, you should maintain physical distance and good hygiene practices at all Alert Levels.

You can work with your doctor or specialist if you need help understanding your level of risk and how best to stay healthy.

Ministry of Health advice for people at risk (external link)

Protecting yourself through vaccination

Getting your vaccination is an important step you can take to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

Vaccines help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and reduce your chances of getting seriously ill or dying if you do get COVID-19.

Even if you are vaccinated, you should still take precautions, including limiting interactions with others, wearing a face covering in public, and staying home where possible.

Who is at higher risk of COVID-19

People with underlying medical conditions

Underlying medical conditions include:

  • serious respiratory disease, including chronic lung disease and severe asthma
  • serious heart conditions
  • immunocompromised conditions
  • severe obesity — a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher
  • hypertension that is not well controlled
  • diabetes that is not well controlled
  • chronic kidney disease
  • liver disease.

Many conditions and treatments can weaken a person's immune system, including: 

  • having chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • bone marrow or organ transplantation
  • some blood cancers
  • immune deficiencies including HIV infection
  • immunity weakening medications such as high-dose corticosteroids and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs.

Other people at risk

Those over 70

Older people, especially those who have underlying medical conditions, are more at risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Anyone can call Age Concern New Zealand on 0800 65 2105 to get advice and support.

Residents of aged care facilities

International evidence has shown that aged care facilities are prone to the quick spread of viruses like COVID-19.

Residents are more at risk of illnesses due to their age and they are also more likely to have underlying medical conditions.

Ethnic minorities

International research has shown COVID-19 has a larger impact on ethnic minorities.

Māori, Pacific and some other ethnic minorities in New Zealand are at risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19, especially when there is:

  • a higher rate of chronic medical conditions
  • crowded housing
  • difficulty accessing health care.

Smoking

People with a history of smoking are more likely to have severe symptoms of COVID-19 and be admitted to intensive care.

There are options available to help you stop smoking. You can discuss these with your doctor or contact Quitline on 0800 778 778.

How to stop smoking — Ministry of Health (external link)

People who are pregnant

We recommend people who are pregnant take extra precautions, as evidence shows they may be at greater risk of poor outcomes.

If you are pregnant and work in an area where there is a high risk of exposure to COVID-19, such as some healthcare settings, you can:

  • discuss and agree with your employer a risk assessment and options for different ways of working
  • agree on leave from work and pay arrangements with your employer, if you cannot work safely at your workplace or from home.

These leave arrangements may be important to ensure you remain eligible for paid parental leave.

More information about parental leave (external link)

Find more information on maternity care at the different Alert Levels on the Ministry of Health website.

Information for people who are pregnant, and those who have recently given birth (external link)

Financial support

There may be financial support for some people in situations where they need to stay away from work and cannot work from home.

Financial support for individuals and whānau

Alert Level 1 advice for at-risk people

At Alert Level 1, there is freedom to move around, but it is best to stay vigilant when out and about. Maintain physical distance from others if you can and keep up good hygiene practices. 

Things you can do to stay safe

  • Keep a 2 metre distance from people you do not know in public places and take extra care with hygiene practices.
  • Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching surfaces.
  • Wipe keys, handrails, and regularly touched surfaces.
  • Avoid passing around your mobile phone to other people.

If you are working and considered at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, talk with your employer about a risk assessment in your workplace. It will look at what the risk is for you and how to reduce it.

Alert Level 2 advice for at-risk people

At Alert Level 2, we need to reduce our contact with others. There is some freedom to move around, but you should follow public health measures. If you are an at-risk person, you will need to take extra precautions when doing this.

Things you can do to stay safe

  • Only connect with small groups of close family, whānau, and friends — those in or close to your bubble.
  • Try not to interact with too many people outside of your own social circle as it could make contact tracing harder, if needed.
  • Keep a 2 metre distance from people you do not know in public places and take extra care with hygiene practices.
  • We recommend you wear a face covering whenever you are leaving your home, especially if it is difficult to keep a 2 metres away from others. You must wear a face covering at some places.
    When you must wear a face covering
  • Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching surfaces.
  • Wipe keys, handrails, and regularly touched surfaces.
  • Avoid passing around your mobile phone to other people.

Alert Level 3 advice for at-risk people

At Alert Level 3 we need to restrict our contact with others. You must stay within your household bubble whenever you are not at work or school.

We recommend people at higher risk stay at home other than for essential personal movement. This can include things such as accessing essential services like healthcare.

Things you can do to stay safe

  • Stay home and ask others to pick up supplies for you — ask them to leave these at the door.
  • Stay at least 2 metres away from people you do not know, especially if they are unwell.
  • You must wear a face covering when accessing a business or service at Alert Level 3. We encourage you to wear one whenever you leave your home.
  • Limit interactions with others — at Alert Level 3 we can expand our bubbles to connect with close whānau and friends, but it's important to keep it exclusive.

You can get essential in-home care at Alert Level 3, but services will change to reduce the risks of COVID-19.

It is recommended that you work with your doctor if you need further help understanding your level of risk.

Alert Level 4 advice for at-risk people

At Alert Level 4, you need to stay home. Everyone must stay in their bubble.

You can leave your home for essential personal movement, such as accessing healthcare or going to the supermarket.

Things you can do to stay safe

  • Stay home and ask others to pick up supplies for you — ask them to leave these at the door.
  • Stay at least 2 metres away from people, especially if they are unwell.
  • You must wear a face covering when accessing a business or service at Alert Level 4. We encourage you to wear one whenever you leave your home.
  • Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.

Support is available

The Student Volunteer Army Grocery Delivery Service is available nationwide to people who are self-isolating or who have no other way to access food.

To order:

Access to food or essential items

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