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 traffic light settings.

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

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.

Get your COVID-19 vaccination

If you have any concerns about how you will react to the vaccine talk to your doctor.

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.


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 | (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.

Parental leave | (external link)

Find more information about maternity care on the Ministry of Health website.

Pregnant people and those who have recently given birth | (external link)

How to stay safe

In the traffic light settings there is freedom to move around, but it is best to stay vigilant when out and about. You should keep up healthy habits and keep away from people you do not know. 

Things you can do to stay safe

  • Try not to interact with too many people outside of your own social circle as it could make contact tracing harder, if needed.
  • Keep your distance from people you do not know in public places and take extra care with hygiene practices.
  • We recommend you wear a face mask whenever you are leaving your home, especially if it is difficult to keep your distance from others. You must wear a face mask at some places.
  • You can ask people to drop off supplies at your door.
  • Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching surfaces.
  • Wipe keys, handrails, and regularly touched surfaces.
  • Avoid passing around your mobile phone to other people.
  • Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.

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.

Healthy habits

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 basic needs at Red

Access to basic needs at Orange

Access to basic needs at Green

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