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SocietyMarch 24, 2020

‘Essential services’: what stays open, and what must close, in lockdown NZ?

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New Zealand soon moves into alert level four to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone is required to stay home as of 11.59pm Wednesday. Except essential services. What are those?

Updated with new guidelines issued at 9.30pm on March 24

Announcing the historic decision to institute a nationwide shutdown as of Wednesday, Jacinda Ardern laid out the exceptions. Supermarkets, banks, GPs, pharmacies, service stations, couriers and “other important frontline service providers” would be classed as essential services.

People can continue to use those services, though are encouraged to do so sparingly.

Schools will be closed.

Public transport and regional air travel will be restricted to “those involved in essential services and freight”, though there will be some flexibility for those striving to make it home. Domestic air travel is permitted “in some cases for people to leave the country and to get home to self-isolate.”

“Food, healthcare, energy, internet, waste collection and financial support will always be available. They must have health measures and contact tracing in place.”

Non-essential businesses must now close. All bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, cinemas, pools, museums, libraries, playgrounds and any other place where the public congregate must close their face to face function.

Over the next 48 hours as we move to Level 4, takeaway services must move to close their operations.

But what is the detail?

This is official guidance as it stands.


Can open

  • Dairies, with “one-in one-out” rule·
  • Supermarkets
  • Pharmacies
  • Banks
  • Couriers
  • Service stations
  • Liquor stores within a Licensing Trust Area and with “one-in one-out” rule
  • Self-service laundries (with two-metre physical distancing enforced)·
  • Trade for essential services sales at Bunnings, Mitre 10, Placemakers, etc
  • Food bag/box (not cooked) services

Must close

  • General retail for Bunnings, Mitre 10, Placemakers, etc
  • The Warehouse
  • Liquor shops outside areas where trusts prevent supermarket sales
  • All cooked food delivery (except meals on wheels)

“Only the businesses absolutely essential to ensure the necessities of life, like supermarkets and pharmacies, can stay open. If in doubt, the business premises should be closed,” said Paul Stocks, deputy CEO at MBIE, in a statement on Tuesday evening.

“So unfortunately the Warehouse needs to close its shops. Leaving them open to the general public creates too high a risk of further spreading the virus.”

Stocks said “big box” retailers like Bunnings, Placemakers and Mitre 10 can stay open to trade customers for essential purposes only.

“These retailers play an important part in the construction supply chain, but they cannot sell goods to the general public.”

Businesses that are a critical part of the supply chain for essential services are also able to continue operating, but must do so in a way that is safe.

“For example, if you make chemicals that are needed for our waste water plants, then we need you to keep operating at the minimum level required.”

Dairies can continue to operate, but must observe strict physical distancing rules for customers.

“Dairies provide basic food items like bread and milk to people close to where they live, especially the elderly who may not be able to get to a supermarket. However, they will need to operate a strict ‘one-in one-out’ policy and they won’t be allowed to sell food prepared on the premises.

“If any dairy breaks the rules, we will shut it down. If there is evidence of systemic abuse, we will remove them from the essential services list.

“Food delivery services like Uber Eats and Deliver Easy pose a risk to human health. We cannot guarantee every kitchen operates strict food preparation controls or that everyone who works in a kitchen is well. Evidence overseas suggests the virus has been spread via poor food hygiene practices, so it’s a real risk we have to eliminate.

“For clarity, every restaurant, café and bar must close all aspects of their operation, including delivery.

“Delivery of food that is not pre-cooked will be allowed under strict health conditions. Many New Zealanders now receive their food via a delivery company and are in effect no different to a supermarket delivery option.

“Most people are able to purchase alcohol at supermarkets. On that basis liquor stores are being treated as other non-essential retail outlets and must close. The only exception to this are Licencing Trust Areas where there is nowhere else to purchase alcohol. These stores must operate a ‘one-in one-out’ policy.

“We are doing further work on online ordering of non-food products for home delivery to see if this type of retail can be conducted safely. We will update advice on this once further decisions are made.

“Covid-19 alert level 4 is not business as usual and means there will be significant restrictions on what New Zealanders are able to purchase. However, these changes are essential to stop the spread of the virus.

“We are ready to change the list if necessary. If we discover there are essential services that have not been made available we will react to that as we go.”

The above is based on new information as of 9.30pm March 24 

Essential services

  • (Includes the supply chains)


  • Accommodation services for essential workers and people who need to be isolated/quarantined.


  • Customs New Zealand, Immigration New Zealand and the Ministry for Primary Industries

Building and construction

  • Building and construction related to essential services, critical infrastructure, or immediately needed to maintain human health and safety at home/work.

Courts, tribunals and the justice system              

  • Courts of New Zealand and tribunals.

Critical Crown entities

  • (eg Electoral Commission)

Fast-moving consumer goods   

  • Businesses involved in the supply, delivery, distribution and sale of food, beverage and other key consumer goods (but not takeaway shops)

Financial services

  • Banks, insurers and other financial institutions
  • NZX
  • Securities registries


  • Hospitals, primary care clinics, pharmacies, medical laboratories, care facilities
  • Midwives, kaiāwhina workers, social workers, aged care and community workers and caregivers more generally
  • Any entity producing health sector equipment, medicines and PPE

Ambulance services

Mortuary services

Local and national government

  • Any entity involved in Covid-19 response or that has civil defence/emergency management functions

Key public services

Primary industries

  • Including food and beverage production and processing
  • Packaging, production and processing of food and beverage products.
  • Food safety and verification, inspection or associated laboratory services, food safety and biosecurity functions

Veterinary and animal health/welfare services

Public safety and national security

Emergency services

Security and intelligence services

Justice system

Public safety and national security roles


  • Any entity (including research organisations) involved in Covid-19 response, hazard monitoring, resilience, diagnostics for essential services
  • ESR, GNS, GeoNet, NIWA, MetService

Social services 

  • Welfare and social services, including NGOs, which meet immediate needs (further guidance will be provided)

Transport and logistics 

  • Transport services
  • New Zealand Post and courier services.
  • Any small passenger service vehicle driver – including taxis and ride-share services
  • Businesses providing services to keep vehicles safe (e.g. testing, mechanics and tyre services)

Utilities and communications, including supply chains

  • Electricity, gas, water, waste, fuel, telecommunication services, internet providers
  • News and broadcast media
  • Businesses that provide essential services to these essential businesses (e.g. cleaning and security)

These businesses will continue working, but will put in place alternative ways of working to keep employees safe, including shift-based working, staggered meal breaks, flexible leave arrangements and physical distancing.

A more detailed list can be found here. A call centre and 0800 number for each sector is promised to be forthcoming. Keep an eye on this page.

Updated 11am, March 24, to reflect revised guidelines.

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