Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

SocietyApril 27, 2020

What you can and can’t do in Covid-19 alert level three: 60 questions, answered

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

The lockdown shackles loosen as we move from alert level four. What changes under alert level three?

Jacinda Ardern has called it a “recovery room”, and “a progression, not a rush to normality”. The goal of shifting down a notch through the alert level system is to keep enough of a thumb over the hose to avoid squandering efforts to suppress Covid-19 in New Zealand – where active cases are now down around the 300 mark –while “positioning the economy for recovery”.

Here are some of the questions, complete with answers, about how alert level three works.

When exactly does New Zealand shift from alert level four to alert level three?

At 11.59pm on Monday April 27. Basically it’s Tuesday, but 12.00am, or even “midnight”, are always confusing.

What’s the general difference?

For most people, more stays the same than it changes. The “bubble” principle of isolating with your household broadly remains. Physical isolation outside that bubble remains. As far as businesses go, however, the emphasis moves from what is “essential” to what is “safe”. And schools open, too.

Can you double your bubble?

Not exactly. The guidance is that “you will be able to extend your bubble slightly to bring in close family, isolated people, or caregivers”. So it doesn’t mean rolling around to your mates’ place. Sorry.

What about meeting up with a Tinder match?

No hook-ups. Kia kaha.

Who goes back to work?

The instruction is that if you can work from home, work from home.

Who goes back to school, and when?

Schools open on Wednesday April 29 for students up to Year 10 – though some may be later. So do early childhood centres. Critically, schools are limited to the kids of parents who “need” to attend – a change from the original “attendance is voluntary” message. If you’re a parent, your school will provide more information. If you’re a child, ask your parent – and thanks for reading The Spinoff.

How will schools work?

They’re still finalising plans, but students will be physically isolated, as will teachers. Much will depend on how many students are attending. Check with your local school; the latest Ministry of Health information is here.

How on earth will ECE centres manage physical distancing?

That’s clearly all but impossible. Which is a large part of the reason the Early Childhood Council has appealed directly to the prime minister to reverse the decision.

What about Playcentres?

They remain closed.

Tertiary institutions?

Most facilities at universities and other institutions remain closed, with most offering distance learning. Some bits and pieces may open for “limited activities involving small stable groups (up to 10 people who do not change)”.

What if you’re sick?

Stay. Home.

Can you drink bleach?

No. You should never drink bleach, don’t be a pig.

Can businesses prepare for reopening?

Yes, and they have been permitted to go into work to do that for some days now.

What about funerals, tangihanga or weddings?

Where under alert level four no one could attend, up to 10 people will now be able to do so. Distancing will be required and there are to be no receptions or meals.

Can you travel to get there?

Inter-regional travel is allowed for travel to funerals and tangihanga, but not to weddings or civil union services.

Will the shops be open?

The requirement for “essential items” lifts, so you’ll be able to buy pretty much everything again online. Retailers can operate but will need to adhere to distancing rules and any transactions and exchanges will need to be “contactless”. You won’t be browsing or shooting the breeze with your favourite retailer.

What about supermarkets – do you still have to queue at two metres apart?

Yup. Supermarkets continue as they did under alert level four. As do petrol stations and dairies. As do pharmacies.

Does the ‘virtual GP’ setup change?

No. Healthcare services will continue to use virtual, non-contact consultations where possible.

Will dentists be open under level three?

Only for urgent in-person appointments. Routine dental care will not be available.

What about physiotherapists, optometrists, etc?

If it’s urgent care, yes. Otherwise, not in person. But remote consultations are absolutely available, and funded by ACC in the same way in-person treatment is. Give your local physio a call to find out what they can do for you.

Can magazines resume printing?


Public venues?

Libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, playgrounds and markets remain closed at level three.

And what about businesses that don’t have any interaction with the public?

It’s OK to resume operations assuming health and safety and physical distancing rules are in place. That means construction and forestry, for example, are likely to return. For more information on workplace requirements under alert level three, see here.

Will restaurants reopen?

Not for dining in. (Obviously it’s a no for bars, too, sorry.)

What about for takeaways?

If the restaurant can do contactless payment, then there’s a good chance they’ll be up and running in the coming days. But there will be no rocking on into the joint – order online or phone ahead. For more on the rules see here.

Can I pay someone to make me a coffee?

Yes. Those contactless rules apply, but yes.

Has The Spinoff prepared a non-comprehensive-but-as-close-to-nationwide-as-we-could-muster round-up of good places that will be open, listed in geographical and alphabetical order?


Which app is best to use for ordering?

Uber Eats will be back online, but it’s not the only kid on the block – there are other options that take a smaller commission. There’s more on that here, but the simplest thing might be to call your favourite local takeaway or restaurant and ask them whether they’re open and how they prefer you order – some will be doing delivery direct.

Will drive-throughs be open?

For the most part, yes, though with stripped back menus and a few extra rules. It’s not without controversy, however. Unions are questioning whether McDonalds’ plans for operations under alert level three are lawful.

Will you be free to travel as you please?

Afraid not. Travel remains, with a few exceptions, to your “local area” and for specific purposes, such as going to work or school, going to the supermarket or collect purchases, or getting exercise.

Is public transport open to all?

Yes. You can use public transport if you’re travelling to work, school, for recreation or to go to the supermarket or pharmacy or for other medical reasons. You can also use it to collect goods purchased. Physical distancing rules remain, and people are encouraged to avoid peak times. Obviously, don’t go on public transport if you’re not well. Don’t go anywhere if you’re not well. Call your doctor.

What if you want to head home after being in the wrong place for the full lockdown?

Yes. If you are “stuck in wrong place” (that’s the official wording) you can move through the country to get home, but the rule is: do it once, and in one direction. The guidance is to bring proof of your address, or a letter from your employer, in case you need to explain the reason for your travel.

Can you catch a domestic flight to do that?


Can you get repairs done on your vehicle?

“Essential maintenance and safety services” are OK. That includes essential repair to a private vehicle you rely on to get to the supermarket.

Are the rules around recreation looser?

A bit. You can now travel to a destination within your region to get some exercise, but you’re advised to stick to your nearest beach or park.

Can you play touch rugby with friends?

Sadly not. Anything where there’s a chance of close contact or touching the same object is off limits.


Good news for lovers of golf, lawn bowls and croquet. While public courts and courses remain closed, private clubs can be used. But not the clubhouses, toilets or changing facilities. It’s all got to remain contactless. And the rule is: “Stay strictly within your bubble to play, and avoid any congregating.”

Can you go surfing under alert level three?

If you are experienced, yes, you can go to your local spot. The rules for surfing and other forms of recreation is: this is not a time to try something new.

Can you go fishing?

Off a wharf or the shore is allowed.


At your local beach, go ahead.

Can you go boating?

There is no motorised or sail boating, nor scuba diving. However, snorkelling, kayaking, canoeing, rowing, windsurfing and paddle boarding is OK within 200 metres of shore and while observing other rules including physical distancing.


Day walks on easy trails.

Mountain biking?

Same applies. If you’re experienced and know the trail.

Can you put your bike in the car and drive to a better track?

Is this a joke about David Clark?

No, just keen to know.

Yes you can. But don’t travel to another region. Keep it as local as possible. For more information on permissible sport and recreation under alert level three, see here.

Can you rent a shared scooter or bike?


Can you still drive with an expired licence or warrant of fitness?

As in level four, you can drive with a driver’s licence or warrant of fitness that expired on or after January 1 2020.

Will it change the enforcement approach?

Ardern has said alert level three means “higher trust and high expectations of New Zealanders not to lose that trust”. She said police would continue to enforce the rules. “People will still be asked questions when they’re moving around … but there is more trust at alert level three.”

Will the daily briefings continue?

Alas, no. Jacinda Ardern said that today’s would be the last “regular briefing”, before paying tribute to Ashley Bloomfield. The Ministry of Health will continue to provide daily updates at 1pm, while the prime minister will front her weekly post-cabinet press conferences and daily media stand-ups on the bridge at parliament. (This has been updated to reflect the PM’s clarification today.)

Are playgrounds usable again?

Nope, sorry about that.

Not even school playgrounds?

No. They remain closed to the public.

Do quarantine and self-isolation rules for arrivals into the country remain?

They do.

Can you visit someone in hospital under alert level three?

The rules have been relaxed a little here, but it depends on the circumstances. See the ministry information here.

Can you visit a relative in a residential care facility?

Only family visits for end-of-life care residents are allowed, and on a case-by-case basis. Call the facility.

Can you visit a relative in a retirement village?

If the family member is living independently, you can visit assuming it’s within your region. If your family member had a “bubble buddy” with someone else during alert level four, they can choose to end that buddy relationship to allow you to visit. You then become their new bubble. So use your bubble wisely. And the advice is to talk to the retirement village operator first.

What about religious events? Given it’s Ramadan, can Muslims extend bubbles or gather up to 10 people?

“Unfortunately, it is not possible to extend your bubble further to bring in extra people to celebrate or mark religious events,” is the official advice. Places of worship remain closed.

When does parliament sit again?

The house resumes on Tuesday April 28, though with a limited number of MPs, who need to stay out of each other’s faces. The format will be decided by the Business Select Committee, but it’s expected that question time will be a central component.

Will the Epidemic Response Committee continue?

Again that’s up to the Business Committee, but probably.

Is hunting allowed?

Yes, on private land, and within the region.

When will alert level three end and alert level two begin?

There is no guarantee that we will move to alert level two next. If things go badly, we could conceivably go back to alert level four. So it’s not a good idea to be liberal in your interpretation of the rules.

OK, but when will the government decide?

Alert level three will hold for a minimum of two weeks, at which point progress will be reviewed. Cabinet will make “further decisions” on May 11.

And what would alert level two look like?

Steady on. The details of that will be refined closer to the time.

Sure. But what would it look like, roughly?

The rules at alert level two, as most recently outlined, will require the following:

  • Physical distancing of one metre outside home (including on public transport).
  • Gatherings of up to 100 people indoors and 500 outdoors allowed while maintaining physical distancing and contact tracing requirements.
  • Sport and recreation activities are allowed if conditions on gatherings are met, physical distancing is followed and travel is local.
  • Public venues can open but must comply with conditions on gatherings, and undertake public health measures.
  • Health services operate as normally as possible.
  • Most businesses open, and business premises can be open for staff and customers with appropriate measures in place. Alternative ways of working encouraged (e.g. remote working, shift-based working, physical distancing, staggering meal breaks, flexible leave).
  • Schools and Early Childhood Education centres open, with distance learning available for those unable to attend school (e.g. self-isolating).
  • People advised to avoid non-essential inter-regional travel.
  • People at high risk of severe illness (older people and those with existing medical conditions) are encouraged to stay at home where possible, and take additional precautions when leaving home. They may choose to work.

Should you keep washing your hands?

Yes please.

The official guidance on alert level three can be found here.

Keep going!