One Question Quiz
(Image: Madeleine Chapman)
(Image: Madeleine Chapman)

SocietyOctober 8, 2021

To pee or not to pee: A full timeline of the confusing level three bathroom rule

(Image: Madeleine Chapman)
(Image: Madeleine Chapman)

How one simple question – can I use someone else’s bathroom or not? – inspired a week of urinary confusion.

Monday October 4


The prime minister has just announced that Auckland, which has been in lockdown for seven weeks, will be staying in alert level three, sort of. There will be eased restrictions: two bubbles can gather, outside only, with up to ten people at a time. Distance must be maintained when masks are removed for eating and drinking. Jacinda Ardern is inviting Aucklanders to meet their friends and whānau for a walk or a picnic or a beer.

On the Spinoff work messaging platform, Slack, staffers are reacting to the news. Leonie Hayden (Opinion Writer of the Year at the 2021 Voyager Media Awards) has only one thing on her mind.

“I might be focusing on the wrong thing, but if I go have a beer in a friend’s backyard, can I use their toilet?”

A simple question posed by an award-winning journalist.

Can I use someone else’s bathroom?


The Spinoff has one press gallery reporter, Justin Giovannetti. He is present both at the press conference and on Slack. Amid his helpless colleagues’ speculating, a curmudgeonly Giovannetti cuts through:

“I asked about your bloody toilet.”

And so he has. Back in the Beehive theatrette, Giovannetti asks if a person having a drink in their friend’s backyard is allowed to use their toilet. Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield looks perplexed. He’s not ready for such a specific question. He begins to answer but Ardern speaks over him.

“Keep it outside,” she says, with confidence. “Nice and simple. If you haven’t got a good bladder, don’t stay for long.”

Can I use someone else’s bathroom? No.


Moments after, nay, seconds after Ardern has given what appears to be a definitive answer, Bloomfield continues with his original response: “We haven’t modelled that particular scenario but it’s the gathering of people inside [that’s to be avoided]. I’m assuming they’re not all going to the toilet at the same time.”

He stops talking and Ardern moves on to the next question.

Can I use someone else’s bathroom? Yes.

Tuesday October 5


Deputy prime minister Grant Robertson appears on the AM Show to clarify ongoing confusion about the level three, step one rules. Ryan Bridge asks him, first up, whether or not someone visiting a friend for a drink is allowed to use their bathroom. Robertson laughs, makes a joke about being happy to cover the important issues first, then answers.

“As Dr Bloomfield said yesterday, we’re not expecting there to be gatherings of people in the toilet but if people need to go, no doubt they will manage that situation. The critical element here is that the focus of these gatherings is outdoors.”

Can I use someone else’s bathroom? Yes.

Newshub coverage of the issue exercising a weak-bladdered nation


On the final day of alert level three as we know it, there is still confusion in the air about the new “step” system. And still confusion about toilets. Auckland Council releases a statement in an attempt to clear the air.

“Over the coming days we will be working to reopen more of our public toilets and making some of our outdoor facilities available for use once again,” it says. “With so many parks, this will take time so please do bear with us while we work through this”

Can I use someone else’s bathroom if that someone else is a park? Yes.


After being asked for clarification around the residential toilet rule (among others), the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet sends out a final ruling to media via email.

“Visitors cannot go into your house at all. This includes walking through a house to access the backyard or use of bathroom facilities. If you have visitors they can meet in your garden or in an outdoor public space. The golden rule is that your gathering of 10 people is outdoors to reduce the ability of the virus to transmit.”

Can I use someone else’s bathroom? No.

Wednesday October 6


The prime minister appears on The Hits morning show with Jono and Ben to once again provide clarity on the toilet rule.

“I’m really clear on this,” she says, speaking on day three of toilet confusion. “Just don’t go inside. Don’t go inside, please. And if you’re really stressed about whether or not this is going to be manageable, just be in a park or a place where this isn’t going to be a dilemma for you.”

Can I use someone else’s bathroom? No.

Does “just be[ing] in a park” mean people magically won’t need to pee? Also no.


Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins is running the 1pm press briefing. He does not mention toilet use in his prepared remarks but is of course asked about them when he opens the floor for questions. He’s given a pop quiz on the rules that includes “can you go to the toilet if you go to your friend’s house for a barbecue?”

“No,” he says firmly. It sounds like he’s finished and then he hurriedly adds, “unless it’s an outdoor toilet”.

Can I use someone else’s bathroom? No.

Can I use someone else’s outdoor bathroom? Yes.


An email is sent to multiple media outlets and politicians, including the prime minister, as well as the director general of health and the (director) general info account at the ministry of health with the subject line “denial of access to toilet = torture”. The body of the email doesn’t provide much more information then that but is thought-provoking nonetheless. At time of writing, none of the recipients has “reply-all”ed to the email.

Can I use someone else’s bathroom? No.

Is denying access to a bathroom torture? Maybe?

Thursday October 7

No pee discourse to report.

Friday October 8


As at 8.00am, Friday October 8, there has been no further news of toilet-based Covid-19 rules. No reporters have investigated Hipkins’ casual reference to outdoor toilets at people’s homes, despite that being a thing that largely doesn’t exist. Men can pee in bushes (and do so) with ease. Women will, it seems, just figure it out. Or, as Ardern suggested, “just be in a park or a place where this isn’t going to be a dilemma”.

Can I use someone else’s bathroom? No.


Correction: this article has been updated to show the deputy prime minister appeared on the AM Show on Tuesday, not Wednesday.

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