A tranche of "far-reaching and unprecedented" travel restrictions means New Zealand now has some of the toughest border restrictions in the world to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
From midnight tonight, any person from any country, excluding the Pacific islands, will be required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival to the country and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has encouraged all New Zealanders to avoid all non-essential travel overseas.
As well as affecting thousands of peoples' travel plans, the move is expected to significantly impact Kiwis' jobs and New Zealand economy.
Self-isolation means you should avoid situations that could facilitate the transmission of the virus, including work.
So what does that mean for Kiwi work places?
Can I still go to work if I have been told to self-isolate?
Employment New Zealand has issued guidelines for the workplace which state that employers should not require or knowingly allow workers to come to a workplace when they are sick with Covid-19 or if they have been advised to self-isolate under public health guidelines.
If they do, they are likely to be in breach of their duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
And if a worker comes to the workplace after being told not to, they can be suspended from work.
How will self-isolating affect my pay?
- If a worker in self-isolation does not feel sick and is willing and able, they can offer to work from home and agree with the employer to do so. They will be paid normally.
- If an employee, who has been advised to self-isolate under Ministry of Health guidelines for Covid-19, can't practicably work from home, then special paid leave should be considered. Other forms of paid leave can be considered (such as paid sick leave) and used by agreement between the employer and the employee.
- If the person is sick, or needs to care for a sick dependent, paid sick leave (and anticipated sick leave) may be used. If paid sick leave is not available, paid special leave should be considered. Other forms of paid leave can be used by agreement between the employer and the employee.
- Contractor pay and leave is not covered by this guidance. Employers and contractors can agree to any payment arrangements they wish to.
What if I'm worried about getting coronavirus at work?
Where the employer does not agree there is a reasonable belief or concern about an employee contracting coronavirus at work, they can instruct them to come to the workplace.
The pair can agree the worker will work from home, in which cases, the worker will be paid normally. The employer and worker may also agree to other arrangements, for example paid special leave.
The worker must follow the reasonable instructions, policies and procedures of their employer.
Employment NZ said employers should plan ahead and work with workers and unions for likely scenarios of Covid-19.
Can I get extra financial support?
If you have been affected by coronavirus, Work and Income may be able to provide financial support, even if the person is not on a benefit.
In emergencies, WINZ can help with:
- loss of livelihood (where you can't work and have lost your income)
• food, clothing and bedding (immediate needs up to a maximum amount)
• accommodation costs if you have to move.
To find out what help may be available, who to contact for help, or for more information, call the Government Helpline on 0800 779 997 (9am–5pm, 7 days a week).
How can I prevent the virus while at work?
Regular cleaning of the workplace environment will minimise the spread of infection by reducing workers' contact with contaminated surfaces.
Where possible, use disposable cloths to clean surfaces. Reusable cloths should be cleaned, disinfected and then dried after use.
Basic personal actions to stop the spread of infectious diseases include:
- getting immunised against infectious diseases
• washing and drying hands regularly and well
• staying at home if you are sick
• covering coughs and sneezes
The new restrictions
One top economist said the restrictions would lead to "economic carnage." Another described it as a "body blow" for the tourism sector.
The new travel restrictions, which will be reviewed after 16 days, were announced after a full Cabinet meeting yesterday.
People who have travelled outside of New Zealand in the past 14 days are also not permitted to travel to the Pacific islands.
Cruise ships will be banned from entering New Zealand until the end of June.
Cargo ships and essential air freight will still be allowed to enter the country for things like pharmaceuticals.
"Alongside Israel and a small number of Pacific islands who have effectively closed their borders, this decision will mean New Zealand will have the widest ranging and toughest border restrictions of any country in the world," Ardern said.
Other restrictions — such as denying travel for anyone who shows symptoms — have been introduced.
Ardern encouraged Kiwis to "Enjoy your own backyard for a time".
And she issued stark advice: no hugs, hongi or handshakes.
"Look out for your neighbour, look out for your family, look out for your friends. Look after your older ones, we are all in this together."
She stressed that "no one needs to conduct a run on their supermarket."
The Government is also preparing to release a directive on public events this week. It is expected to follow the lead of other countries, which have banned gatherings of more than 500 or 1000 people.
Commemoration events around the country for the mosque attacks were cancelled yesterday and sporting events face a blackout. Super Rugby's immediate future is in doubt.
Covid-19 has now infected more than 145,000 people around the world and six in New Zealand.
Ardern said it was highly likely that number would increase.
"It is not realistic for New Zealand to have only a handful of cases," she said. "The international evidence proves that is not realistic, and so we must plan and prepare for more cases."
It is unclear how many people the new travel rules will impact, but at least one MP — National's Kanwaljit Bakshi, who is currently at a funeral in India — will likely have to self-isolate upon his return.
And Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin will also remain in self-isolation for another seven days after coming into contact with Covid-19 infected Peter Dutton — Australia's Home Affairs Minister.
Martin told the Herald on Sunday she was not showing Covid-19 symptoms and would not be getting tested.
The decision to impose the new self-isolation rules was not one the Government took lightly, Ardern said.
"We have two choices as a nation. One is to let Covid-19 roll-on, and brace. The second is to go hard on measures to keep it out, and stamp it out. I make no apology for choosing the second path. New Zealanders' public health comes first."
More than 10,000 people have self-isolated in New Zealand, with the number is expected to dramatically increase.
The Government would be supporting businesses hit the hardest by the downturn, Ardern said.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson will on Tuesday announce further details of the business continuity package, as well as the Government's wider "economic response".
Employers are obligated to allow their employees to work from home and not be forced to take leave, Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff told the Herald on Sunday.
"At a time like this, everyone needs do everything they can to find practical and pragmatic answers to these types of problems."
When it comes to logistics, such as whose computer and equipment should be used, Wagstaff said it was "best not to reach for the rule book".
Bagrie Economics chief economist Cameron Bagrie said that economic response needed to be significant — given the fact the new travel restrictions will create "economic carnage".
"A recession is inevitable, the question now is how bad?"
ANZ's chief economist Sharon Zollner said the Government's move was a "body blow to tourism to lessen the odds of a king hit to New Zealand's economy and people".
"Mitigating the human toll of this virus will come at a high economic price," she said.
"But that's unavoidable, and we can see from the experiences of other countries that the later that leaders act boldly, the greater the cost will be."