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COVID-19: the health, wellbeing and financial assistance basics

26 March 2020

The coronavirus COVID-19 is hitting many nations hard, including New Zealand, and the nation has been put into an Alert Level 4 lockdown.

Minimising the spread of coronavirus is important to keep employees safe and well at work. The Ministry of Health has information available on workplace infectious disease prevention.

Symptoms

The symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • a cough
  • a high temperature (at least 38°C)
  • shortness of breath.

The symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common, such as cold and ‘flu.

Shortness of breath is also a sign of possible pneumonia and requires immediate medical attention.

If you have these symptoms and have recently been overseas, or have been in close contact with someone confirmed with COVID-19, please telephone Healthline on 0800 358 5453 or your doctor immediately.

How it spreads

COVID-19, like the flu, can be spread from person to person. When a person who has COVID-19 coughs, sneezes or talks, they may spread droplets containing the virus a short distance, which quickly settle on surrounding surfaces.

You may get infected by the virus if you touch those surfaces or objects and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes.

That’s why it’s really important to use good hygiene, regularly wash and thoroughly dry your hands, and use good cough etiquette. Prevention – how to protect yourself and others

  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow or by covering your mouth and nose with tissues.
  • Put used tissues in the bin or a bag immediately.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often (for at least 20 seconds).
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.
  • Avoid personal contact, such as kissing, sharing cups or food with sick people.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs.
  • Stay home if you feel unwell.
  • Call Healthline on 0800 358 5453 if you have any symptoms and have been recently been overseas or have been in close contact with someone confirmed with COVID-19.
Managing your mental wellbeing
  1. Spend time in places that feel safe and comfortable as much as possible.
  2. Tell yourself that how you are feeling is a normal reaction and will pass.
  3. Reach out to your usual supports – family and whānau, friends and workmates. Sharing how we feel and offering support to others is important.
  4. Keep to usual routines – mealtimes, bedtime, exercise and so on.
  5. Keep active –doing usual leisure activities and seeing friends can improve general wellbeing and help distract from distressing feelings.

However, if over days and weeks your distress or stress symptoms are escalating or you feel you are not coping, help and professional support is available.

Anyone who works in a legal workplace can contact Vitae, an experienced provider of workplace wellbeing services, to receive up to three solution-focused counselling sessions with trained and accredited clinicians (counsellors, psychologists or psychotherapists). The service is confidential and available 24/7. You can access the free service by:

Sick leave entitlements

If an employee has run out of sick leave and is sick (or their spouse, partner or dependant is), the employee can ask their employer for sick leave in advance, use their annual holidays, ask for advanced annual leave or leave without pay. An employer could also agree to provide additional sick leave or special paid leave.

Help for businesses and staff

The government has introduced a range of measures to help businesses and workers during this period.

The measures include:

  • Facilitating a six-month deferred mortgage payment scheme to support mortgage holders whose incomes are affected by COVID-19,
  • An estimated $9.3 billion in wage subsidies for affected businesses in all sectors and regions,
  • Support for renters through a freeze on rent increases and end to no-cause evictions on top of existing support like the Accommodation Supplement and MSD grants to help with rent and hardship payments,
  • Protecting the ability of the public health services to respond to pandemic and access the resources they need through an initial $500 million investment,
  • Doubling the 2020 Winter Energy Payment for Superannuitants and main-benefit recipients from 1 May to 1 October to make sure our most vulnerable are able to heat their homes particularly during a time when over-70s are to remain at home,
  • A $25 per week increase to main benefits to protect the most vulnerable and those who lose their jobs, on top of the $10 a week wage indexation increase from 1 April.
  • The $6.25 billion Business Finance Guarantee Scheme to provide loans of up to $500,000 for businesses with annual revenues between $250,000 and $80 million, for up to three years – 80% guaranteed by the Government.
  • Business tax changes to free up cashflow, including a provisional tax threshold lift, the reinstatement of building depreciation and writing off interest on the late payment of tax

“Our immediate priority is making sure New Zealand is prepared for the four week lockdown period, so that we can get through it and out the other side with Kiwis staying safe and well,” says Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

“As the country enters Alert Level 4, all workers who don’t work for essential services will have to stay home for four weeks. Maintaining contact with workers will put businesses in a better position to recover once we are through this period. We will continue to monitor the support programmes and act as is necessary to support the incomes and livelihoods of New Zealanders.”

To apply for COVID-19 assistance click here

Last updated on the 26th March 2020