One Question Quiz
Illustration: Toby Morris
Illustration: Toby Morris

BusinessAugust 31, 2021

How are the alert level three rules different from alert level four?

Illustration: Toby Morris
Illustration: Toby Morris

As of 11.59pm tonight, all of Aotearoa south of greater Auckland moves from level four to level three, with Northland likely to follow suit on Friday. What are the rules for level three, and for travelling between levels?

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Which parts of the country go to level three?

As of Wednesday (11.59pm Tuesday August 31, if you’re being particular, and you want to get that minute in), everywhere south of the Auckland region goes to level three. “Auckland region” here is used liberally: parts of northern Waikato are included in the area that falls within the level four boundary.

What is the level four boundary?

You can search by your address here.

What about Northland?

Northland remains in level four until 11.59pm on Thursday September 2. As long as wastewater or other testing doesn’t deliver anything to worry about, Northland will then move to level three, putting a level four Auckland in the middle of a level three sandwich. The boundary separating Auckland and Northland had not been confirmed at time of writing, but you’ll be able to find it here.

When does Auckland get to move to level three?

No sooner than 11.59pm on Tuesday September 14. Cabinet will make a call on September 13.

So for the soon-to-be-level-three, is this really ‘level four with takeaways’?

For some it might amount to that, yes. But it’s a fair bit more going on. The most substantial change concerns which workplaces can operate.

Go on then. Which workplaces can operate under level three?

Think about it like this: if the work can be done from home, do it from home.

If your workplace can’t operate according to the distancing and safety rules, stay closed.

What are the distancing and safety rules?

In a nutshell: physical distancing of at least a metre between people, hygiene measures, fully contactless options for ordering, pick-up, delivery and payment. That means no customers on the premises, with a few exceptions. 

And what exceptions are those?

The same as level four: supermarkets, pharmacies, dairies, butchers, fishmongers, petrol stations, GPs and hospitals. Also: banks (where online or phone banking is impossible) and hardware or DIY stores (trade only).

Can I go to my workplace to prepare for level three?

If you need to in order to set up systems for contact tracing, contactless payment, distancing requirements and all that, yup. If you’re planning to reopen, read the more detailed rules and guidelines here (or here for primary industries).

Can tourist operators open in level three? Museums? Libraries? Cinemas? Hairdressers? Beauty salons?

No, sorry.

What about domestic cleaners or driving instructors?


Door-to-door salespeople?



Yes. Stay two metres apart from everyone in homes being visited at all times. 

What about if I need to travel between levels to get to work?

We’ll get to that in a bit. 

Can I order something from a level three retailer and get it sent to level four?

If it’s covered by the essential services rules (ie would be available in level four), then yes. If not, well, that’s unclear. We’ve asked MBIE for a ruling on this, but in the meantime, bear in mind that doing so would put extra pressure on already strained postal and courier services, so if it’s not something you could with a straight face call essential then maybe, instead of ordering it, abstain and mutter something under your breath about the people outside Auckland and their materialist indulgences.

Will anyone resident in an alert level three area who gleefully posts photographs online of their delicious takeaways / other non-essential purchases be required by law to pay a commensurate sum to a designated charity or a fund for people in level four to buy delicious takeaways when they get out of strict lockdown?

There are no official guidelines, but let’s just assume yes.

What about schools?

All children should stay at home where possible. (And learn from home, if you’re lucky.) 

Early learning centres can open to provide childcare for tamariki whose parents have to go to the workplace.

Schools and kura will be open for Years 1 to 10 whose parents or carers need to go to work and have no childcare options. Years 11, 12 and 13 continue to learn from home. More here.

And tertiary education?

In level three, almost all universities, polytechnics and other tertiary providers should stick to online learning. Where that’s impossible, such as lab work, some in person services can operate in accordance with health guidelines and at a limit of 10 per class. 

How about social gatherings? Can I expand my bubble?

Taihoa on the social gatherings. The guiding principle under level three is to maintain your existing bubble unless you’re at work or school. This can, if necessary, be expanded to connect with close family and whānau, bring in caregivers, or provide support to people who are alone.

How about funerals and tangihanga? 

Unlike in level four, these can go ahead, but only up to 10 people in total can attend. More here.


Again, for weddings and civil union ceremonies, 10 people tops, all up.

Physical activity?

Keep it low risk. Playgrounds remain closed. Gyms are closed. No team sports. Mountain biking, day tramps and horse riding is OK as long as you know exactly what you’re doing. Same with hunting. More here.

When do I need to wear a mask in alert level three?

You are legally required to wear a mask in any place that involves customer contact, such as supermarkets, pharmacies and takeaways. Same goes for court and tribunals and government agencies with customer service counters.  

Masks are mandatory, too, on public transport and flights, including at airports and train stations; in taxis, Ubers and ride-shares; if visiting healthcare facilities; and if delivering goods. Elsewhere, the guidance is “you are strongly encouraged to wear a face covering when you are outside your home and in a place where it is hard to keep your distance from other people”. 

Is it mandatory to use the Covid app?

As of Wednesday next week (September 8), most businesses will need to require visitors to keep a record of visits to places “where people gather consistently and in large numbers”, whether in level three, four, two, one, five hundred, whatever. The simplest way to do that is with the Covid Tracer app.

Those places will include (bearing in mind most won’t be open under level three, but so you know): cafes, restaurants, bars, casinos, concerts, aged care, healthcare facilities, barbers, exercise facilities, nightclubs, libraries, courts, local and central government agencies, and social services providers with customer service counters.

Even though those rules don’t kick in till next week would it be totally foolish not to use the app everywhere I can immediately?


Can I cross from level three to level four or level four to three?

For most of us, it’s a hard no. 

Who can travel between levels for work?

The short answer: if your workplace, business or service is permitted to and is operating in level four, you can travel across the boundary to get there to work or as part of your work (eg truck drivers carrying goods for essential supply chains). The long answer: it’s complicated and you really should look at the official information here. If you meet the criteria, you’ll save yourself and everyone time by applying for business travel documentation here. (Note: documents from previous outbreaks and lockdowns don’t apply.) 

What about personal travel?

Again, with very limited exceptions, you can’t do it. Exceptions include accessing health services for an appointment (including Covid vaccinations), caring for pets or other animals, emergencies, returning home (level three to four only), travelling through level three without stopping (from Friday), shared childcare arrangements, and urgent care of a child. That’s not a full list. Read more here. Specific evidence and ID is required. 

If you travel level four to three, you must abide by level four rules when you’re in level three. “Bring your level with you” and so on.

Do you bring your level with you if you travel from level three to four?

Very obviously you do not.

Will Auckland declare itself an independent republic?

This seems unlikely. It would certainly be interesting to see what the rules about travelling between Tāmaki Makaurau and the rest of the country become should a scenario arise in which everyone outside our most populous region moves to level two while Auckland stays at level four. But secession is a while off yet. 

The primary source for this post is the Unite Against Covid-19 site.

Keep going!