COVID-19 Alert levels 3 & 4: What does this mean?

General / 23 March 2020
COVID-19 Alert levels 3 & 4:  What does this mean?

As you will be aware, the Government has announced that our COVID-19 alert level is currently at level 3, and it will rise to level 4 on Wednesday 25 March 2020 for a period of four weeks. The Treasury has also announced its COVID-19 economic package expanding significantly on the Government’s wage subsidy scheme, to support New Zealanders and businesses during this difficult time.

In short, non-essential businesses will need to close in the next 48 hours and businesses that are considered essential services will need to take steps to ensure that workers are able to carry out work being at least 2 metres apart and/or wear appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE).

The Government will release the list of essential services later today. What we know so far is that the following will be considered essential services:

  • Businesses involved in the food supply chain
  • Primary industries
  • Public service – Police, Fire Fighters, Ambulance drivers
  • Health care / Medicine /Pharmacies
  • Defence
  • Media and broadcast services
  • Supermarkets
  • Energy / Fuel / Service stations
  • Waste removal
  • Internet
  • Access to essential banking services/financial support

In the coming days, the Government will be issuing an epidemic notice and we will be in a national civil defence emergency.

We set out more information for employers below.


The Government’s decision to move to higher alert levels is to contain the virus and save tens of thousands of lives, by reducing contact and requiring New Zealanders to stay at home.


Level three – nationwide

A range of measures are in place currently:

  • Travel in areas with clusters or community transmission is limited
  • Affected educational facilities will be closed
  • Schools for children of parents that don’t work in essential services will be closed tomorrow
  • Schools will remain open for children of parents that work in essential services until midnight on  Wednesday 25 March 2020, to give time to plan
  • Mass gatherings need to be cancelled including indoor and outdoor events
  • Any place where the public congregates must close its face-to-face function
  • Bars, cafes, restaurants
  • Libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, amusement parks, playgrounds
  • Businesses that provide take away services must move to close their business as well in the next 48 hours
  • Staying at home is essential, and alternative ways of working is required
  • People who work for a non-essential business must work from home
  • People who work for an essential business will be required to be physically distanced by 2 metres  and/or wear appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment
  • Non face-to-face primary care consultations
  • Non acute (elective) services and procedures in hospitals deferred and healthcare staff reprioritised

Level four – nationwide

A range of measures will be in place as of Wednesday 25 March 2020. This means that:

  • People will be told to self-isolate, stay home and not interact with others outside of their household
  • Educational facilities will be closed
  • All businesses that are non-essential services must close
  • Supplies will be rationed and there will be a requisitioning of facilities
  • Travel will be severely limited (people are being asked to stay local)
  • There will be a major reprioritisation of healthcare services


Talk to your bank and consult with your employees about the Government’s alert system and what this means. If your business is a non-essential business you will need to take steps to close.

If you are required to cease operating or if there is no work, then you could, following consultation, terminate roles in reliance on a force majeure clause.  However, with the business support package announced by the Government, you may be able to agree with staff that they take annual leave, and then unpaid leave over the coming weeks. You should also work with your staff to apply for financial support under the Government’s economic package.

We can assist your business by providing you with advice in respect of all your legal obligations as employers

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