New Zealand is about to move to alert level four in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It will put the nation, in effect, on lockdown for four weeks. At least. Here’s what that means in practice.
When does it start and what do I do?
The lockdown starts at 11:59pm on Wednesday. From this point on, unless you are providing an essential service or going to the supermarket or getting a bit of brisk exercise (at a distance from others), you must self-isolate at home.
What should I do before the lockdown starts?
Don’t panic. Make sure everyone in your household knows the rules of self-isolation. Prepare to work from home if you’re not already.
What will be open?
“Essential services” will remain open. You can find a list of them here. In summary: Supermarkets, doctors, service stations and pharmacies will remain open, and will remain stocked. There may be certain restrictions, like different opening hours or a limit on the amount of people allowed in-store, but they will remain open.
Shop for the supplies you need, but go as infrequently as possible. The point of the entire exercise is to as far as possible eliminate people’s contact with one another. And remember to stay vigilant, even while you’re shopping. Stay two metres away from each other.
Will schools be closed?
Yes. Same for ECE and tertiary institutions.
Do I have to self-isolate from my own household?
No. The idea is you form a bubble; say, your family or the group you flat with. Unless one of you is sick, in which case that person should self-isolate as a precaution within the self-isolation. A bubble within a bubble.
Can I go visit friends or family?
No. Your self-isolating unit, or “bubble”, is the only direct social contact you’re allowed. That means you and the other people you live with. As Jacinda Ardern put it, “Whatever your bubble for the month is the bubble that you must maintain.”
If you need to stay social – which is recommended for mental health and wellbeing – we’ve written a few tips about things you can do while self-isolating.
What if I live alone?
Ardern has suggested a “buddy system”; if you live alone, you and another person who lives alone can form a bubble together and support one another, on the basis that they agree not to have contact with anyone beyond.
What if I can find a way to qualify as an “essential worker”? Does that mean I get to catch up with friends?
No. John Ombler, who is overseeing the Covid-19 operationally, put it plainly: “The goal of the lockdown is to limit the spread of the virus and if you’re looking for exceptions to the rule, you’ve missed the point of it and means other New Zealanders would die.”
Can I go outside?
Yes. You’re allowed go to the supermarket, pharmacies and doctors (phone ahead!). You are also allowed to go outside for some fresh air or exercise, but the two metre rule remains the same. You should not be interacting with anybody outside your self-isolation unit.
You can drive locally, if you are going to essential services. The key is that there must be no face-to-face congregation in public spaces. Once more, you should not be interacting with anybody outside your self-isolation unit.
My family member is due to arrive home on a flight after the lockdown has begun. What do they do?
They must self-isolate for 14 days in the city in which they arrive, with the rules that have been in place for the past while.
What if I am an essential worker and I need childcare?
Iona Holsted, secretary for education, clarified today that some parents who are essential workers will need to find a childcare. Their carer then becomes a “trusted buddy” who is identified as part of that particular self-isolated group. “It is critical that that buddy cannot then have other contacts other than your own household. You all become one group … the smaller the better.”
I have shared custody of kids. Can they move between homes?
The guidance is that they can if you live in the same community as the other household, but not if we’re talking separate cities. If you have kids going from one household to another, however, both homes become part of the same bubble. Or to switch metaphors, the only two links in the chain.
Will I still continue to receive mail?
Yes. NZ Post is an essential service, and will continue to deliver. Post shops may be closed, so if you use those to pay your bills, you will need to find other arrangements.
Will I still be able to shop online?
It depends entirely on the business. Some overseas-based digital storefronts for buying movies, games and ebooks, for example, will remain open, though deliveries may be delayed. Most NZ shopping portals for non-essential items will be closed for the duration of the lockdown.
Online supermarket shopping will continue but people are encouraged not to gobble up the delivery slots, so that people who really need those deliveries can get them.
Will my rubbish and recycling be collected?
Rubbish, yes. Recycling, usually, but check online. Some authorities may suspend recycling collections.
How will this be enforced?
Compliance with the lockdown will be enforced by the police and the New Zealand Defence Force.
Police commissioner Mike Bush said New Zealanders could expect to see a strong police presence, and likely also some military presence. These authorities have the power to enforce the lockdown if they see people flouting the rules, for example, by congregating in public.
Bush stressed that this is about education and encouragement. “We don’t want to get into a place where we have to enforce these decisions, but we will if required.”
When will it end?
Four weeks is the minimum. It will be reviewed as we approach that date. Keep in mind that, despite the lockdown, the Covid-19 numbers will get worse before they get better.
What would make it get extended?
A lack of success in stamping out Covid-19. As prime minister Jacinda Ardern put it: “If you hang out with that friend at a park or see that family member for lunch, you risk spreading Covid-19 and extending everyone’s time in level 4.”