COVID-19: Advice for higher risk people

Information for people considered at higher risk of the effects of COVID-19 and their whānau.

Last updated: 29 October 2020

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What you and your whānau need to know to stay safe and healthy

COVID-19 is an illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It’s caused by a type of coronavirus that’s spread like the flu from person to person. Older people and people with some existing health conditions have a higher risk of more severe symptoms if they contract COVID-19.

It’s a good idea to keep yourself healthy from COVID-19 and any viral illness like the common cold and influenza, by following basic hygiene measures, cleaning surfaces and keeping up your physical distancing where practical.

Read more about COVID-19 and ways to protect yourself, including the basic hygiene measures.

You should also keep a record of where you’ve been. If COVID-19 re-emerges from overseas and cases are confirmed, contact tracing will need to happen quickly to prevent spread. Knowing where you’ve been and who you’ve been with will allow this to happen faster.

Read more about keeping a record of where you’ve been.


People at risk of severe illness from COVID-19

If you are working, and are considered to be at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, talk with your employer about doing a risk assessment in your workplace to look at what the risk is for you and how it can be reduced. If you can’t safely work at your workplace, and you aren’t able work from home, you will need to agree with your employer what your leave from work and pay arrangements will be.

You can find further information on the Employment New Zealand website: COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme.

People with medical conditions and compromised immunity

The main reason for COVID-19 becoming a severe illness is the presence of underlying medical conditions, especially if these conditions are not well controlled.

Relevant medical conditions include:

  • chronic lung disease such as cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive respiratory disease and emphysema, severe asthma that needs multiple medications and medical care
  • serious heart conditions such as congestive heart failure
  • hypertension that isn’t well controlled
  • diabetes that isn’t well controlled
  • chronic kidney disease
  • liver disease.

Conditions and treatments that weaken the immune system include:

  • having chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • bone marrow or organ transplantation
  • some blood cancers
  • immune deficiencies including HIV infection
  • immunity weakening medications such as high-dose corticosteroids and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs that treat inflammatory forms of arthritis.

Talk with your GP or other health service provider about whether your medical condition means you are more at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and how to best manage your condition.

You should continue to access care for your medical condition. Health services such as your GP and hospitals have measures in place to keep both you and staff safe.

Older people

Older people, in particular, those who have underlying medical conditions, are more at risk of severe illness from COVID-19. In general risk increases with age but is particularly an issue for people over the age of 70.

Māori and Pacific populations are likely to experience the age-related risk earlier than the age of 70, partly because chronic health conditions are also often experienced at an earlier age.

More information for older people

People in aged care facilities

Residents of aged care facilities are more at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to their age and frailty. Residents are also more likely to have underlying health conditions. Aged care facilities have been shown to be susceptible to rapid transmission of COVID-19 with infections occurring in residents and staff.

Everyone has a part to play to protect residents of aged care facilities including residents, family, friends and staff.

For information about visiting Aged Residential Care facilities at Alert Levels 1-4, see our factsheet: COVID-19 Information for visiting Aged Residential Care facilities.

Other factors contributing to risk

Ethnicity

Overseas experience has shown a disproportionate impact from COVID-19 on ethnic minorities.

Māori, Pacific and some other ethnic minorities in New Zealand are at risk of adverse outcomes from COVID-19, particularly where there exists:

  • a higher rate of chronic health conditions
  • crowded housing
  • difficulty accessing health care (eg due to distance from care, difficulties with transport or childcare, or lack of suitable services).

Smoking

People with a history of smoking are more likely to have severe symptoms of COVID-19 and be admitted to ICU.

There are options available to help you stop smoking. You can discuss these with your GP or contact Quitline on 0800 778 778.

More information on how to stop smoking

Obesity

There is some indication you are more at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, as you are of other conditions such as diabetes, if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher.

More information on measuring weight

Pregnancy

New evidence shows that pregnant women and newborn babies may be at greater risk of poor outcomes if infected with COVID-19. Pregnant and recently pregnant women (defined as within 6 weeks of birth, miscarriage, or termination) may consider taking extra precautions.

You may wish to talk to your midwife, GP or nurse practitioner around your risk of getting COVID-19, given your home and work environment. If there is an increased risk of community transmission in the area where you live, you need to take extra precautions to keep yourself safe

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