Illustration by Toby Morris
Illustration by Toby Morris

Covid-19August 18, 2021

What are the rules for alert level four? Here’s everything you need to know

Illustration by Toby Morris
Illustration by Toby Morris

All your questions about Aotearoa heading back into alert level four, answered. 


As NZ goes back into lockdown, we’re devoting our energies to covering all the important parts of the story. Every dollar members contribute directly funds our editorial team to make that possible. Click here to keep us on the case.


What’s happening? 

At 11.59pm on Tuesday August 17, New Zealand went into a snap nationwide level four lockdown in response to a case of Covid-19 in the community. For Auckland and Coromandel, this runs for seven days; for the rest of the country, three days. Alert level four means, unless you are an essential worker, we all have to stay at home in our bubbles. 

Wait, what’s a bubble? 

I’ll let Siouxsie Wiles explain. “The prime minister has suggested we think of ourselves as being in a little bubble with the people we live with. Our job… is to stay in our bubble. If it turns out someone in our bubble is incubating Covid-19, then the virus will be limited to our bubble. It won’t be able to spread any further. It also means if no one in our bubble has the virus then as long as we stay in our bubble, we will stay safe and save lives.”

This all sounds very familiar. 

We’ve been here before. The last time New Zealand was in level four was in April, 2020. The difference this time is that the delta variant has been found in the community, described by the prime minister as a much more “dangerous and transmissible” variant of the virus. “We know from overseas cases of the delta variant that it can be spread by people simply walking past one another,” Ardern said during last night’s press conference. “So keep movements outside to the bare minimum, wear a mask, and make sure you keep up that physical distancing.”

Got it. So am I an essential worker? 

If you have to ask the question, probably not. Essential workers are described as those who “will continue to provide the necessities of life for everyone in New Zealand,” and are permitted to continue operating under alert level four. You can read the most up-to-date list here. If you are not on the list, you can only leave home for “essential personal movement”.

What is “essential personal movement”? 

A small number of things fall under this category – getting a Covid-19 test, buying groceries, getting a spot of exercise in your local area, or accessing necessary healthcare. Available health services include Healthline, GPs, cancer services, disability and aged support services, but make sure you phone ahead first and expect more consultations to take place remotely. 

Ponsonby doing minimal personal movements in March, 2020. Photo: Ollie Wall

Are hospitals running as normal? 

Hospitals are continuing to run with restrictions varying across different regions. In response to a vaccinated staff member testing positive for Covid-19 this morning, the Auckland District Health Board has announced that most planned and scheduled appointments will be postponed, and that patients will be contacted directly by the hospital to reschedule their appointments. 

Across the country, hospital visitors are either being limited to one per patient, or permitted only under compassionate and essential grounds including maternity care and end of life. This changes a bit region to region, so check your local DHB website for more information, and call the hospital if you are unsure of the current protocol. 

What about Covid-19 vaccinations? 

Vaccination centres nationwide will be closed on Wednesday August 18 and Thursday 19 under Level Four. If you had an a booking, you should be contacted to reschedule your appointment. 

I’m peckish, where I can get food from? 

Restaurants, cafes and takeaways are closed, but supermarkets, dairies, pharmacies and food banks will remain open throughout level four. Ideally, you want to nominate one person per household to do the shopping. While out and about, that person should maintain a two metre distance, wear a mask and maintain good hygiene practices. They will not panic-buy toilet paper or do anything weird like that. 

Online supermarket delivery will remain operational throughout level four with contactless delivery, as will meal-kit services such as Hello Fresh, My Food Bag and Woop. You can drop groceries to people, but they must be left at the door and you must stay two metres away from them. Butchers, bakers and green grocers can run under the same contactless delivery conditions. 

But can I get takeaways with contactless pick-up?

No. You’re thinking of level three. This is level four. No takeaways. 

Uber Eats? Other meal deliveries?

No. Closed. But see above on meal-kit services. 

What about alcohol? 

You can still buy wine, beer and those sneaky seltzers at the supermarket, but the official advice is to “drink less to stay as healthy as you can.” Liquor stores will close unless they are operating within a Licensing Trust Area, and can adhere to a strict “one-in, one-out” policy. 

What else is closed? 

Gyms, cinemas, swimming pools, museums, libraries, playgrounds are all closed under alert level four. Schools and early childhood centres are also closed and will be operating under remote and online learning. 

I can still go hunting, right? 

No. 

Swimming? 

No. 

Surfing? 

No. 

Boating? 

No. 

Tramping

No. Any recreational activity that might put stress on our emergency services, including search and rescue, is not permitted under level four. 

What about my wedding? My birthday? I was going to marry myself on my birthday? 

Cool idea, but all gatherings must be cancelled under Alert Level Four, including birthday parties, weddings, funerals and tangihanga. Major upcoming events such as New Zealand Fashion Week and the Fried Chicken Festival have been postponed until a later date. 

What about the courts? 

Non-priority proceedings will be adjourned for the next 48 hours (Wednesday August 18 and Thursday August 19), including jury trials. Priority proceedings have been defined as those which broadly concern liberty of the individual, personal safety and wellbeing, or matters that are time critical. From Friday August 20, the Court of Appeal, High Court and District Court will conduct hearings using remote participation, unless in-person attendance is unavoidable.

For the Supreme Court, Māori Land Court, Environment Court, Employment Court, and Waitangi Tribunal, non-priority proceedings on Friday 20 will remain adjourned. Keep tabs on the Courts of New Zealand website for the most up to date information, or call 0800 COURTS with any questions. Tennis courts are closed. 

What happens if I live alone? 

If you live by yourself, you are allowed to form a bubble with another household in the same town or city as you. If you need to talk to your neighbours, the official advice is to do it at a distance and over the fence. The unofficial advice is to don a bucket hat and do some Wilson from Home Improvement cosplay for a laugh. 

Actually, I live with a cat – what happens if they get sick? 

Veterinary services are an essential service and can continue to operate at Level Four. Note they will be operating in a way that limits or eliminates the risk of spreading Covid-19, including a “one in, one out” policy and reduced numbers inside the practice, so you can’t take a group to watch Fluffy get their abscess drained. 

When will this end? 

Currently alert level four is in place for the country until at least 11.59pm Friday 20 August, with Auckland and the Coromandel expected to remain in lockdown for at least an additional four days. Keep an eye on the Covid-19 site as well as our Live Updates for the most up to date information. 

Image: Tina Tiller

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