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're 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 GP 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)

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 isn’t well controlled
  • diabetes that isn’t 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.

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're also more likely to have underlying medical conditions.

More information on visiting an Aged Residential Care facility

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 GP 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're pregnant and work in an area where there's 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.

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

Learn about the COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme (external link)

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)

Alert Level 1 advice for at-risk people

At Alert Level 1, there's freedom to move around, but it's 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're 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's still some freedom to move around, but you should follow public health measures. If you're an at-risk person, you’ll 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 won’t be easy to do contact tracing if necessary.
  • Keep a 2 metre distance from people you don’t know in public places and take extra care with hygiene practices.
  • Wear a face covering where it’s difficult to keep a 2m distance from people you don’t know, for example in shops. 
  • Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching surfaces.
  • Wipe keys, handrails, and regularly touched surfaces.
  • Avoid passing around your mobile phone to other people.

There is more detailed guidance available for people who are at higher risk of COVID-19 at Alert Level 2. This guidance includes advice on shopping, work, socialising, travel and recreation:

Guidance for at-risk people at Alert Level 2 [PDF, 69 KB]

Alert Level 3 advice for at-risk people

At Alert Level 3 we need to restrict our contact with others. 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.

There's more detailed guidance for people who are at higher risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19.

This includes a list of health conditions and guidance on how you can live your life as normal as possible at Alert Level 3.

Guidance for at-risk people at Alert Level 3 [PDF, 609 KB]

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

It's recommended that you work with your GP if you need further help understanding your level of risk.

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