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: 21 September 2021

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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.

You can work with your doctor or specialist if you need help understanding your level of risk and how best to stay healthy.

Read more about COVID-19.

Protecting yourself through vaccination

Getting your vaccination is an important step you can take to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

Vaccines help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and reduce your chances of getting seriously ill or dying if you do get COVID-19.

This is why vaccination has been offered to the most vulnerable to COVID-19 from the earliest opportunity.

Read about getting the COVID-19 vaccine

Protecting yourself in other ways

Even if you are vaccinated, you should still take precautions, including limiting interactions with others, wearing a face covering in public, and staying home where possible.

When you leave the house, you should maintain physical distance and good hygiene practices at all Alert Levels.

Read more about ways to protecting yourself and others.

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


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).


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


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


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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