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New Zealand is now at a Level 4 alert level for COVID-19 where the disease is not contained. It is likely Level 4 measures will stay in place for a number of weeks.

This means that everyone who does not work in an essential service needs to stay at home and stop all physical interactions with others outside of those in your households.

Symptoms of COVID-19

  • Cough
  • High temperature (at least 38°C)
  • Shortness of breath

Don’t panic if you have some of these symptoms, as they do not necessarily mean you have COVID-19.  These symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common, such as cold and flu.

How does COVID-19 affect those with respiratory illness?

COVID-19 is known to cause breathing difficulties and coughing, which can be extremely dangerous to those who already have a hard time breathing. The people most at risk of severe health impacts from COVID-19 are those with pre-existing severe respiratory conditions including severe asthma, bronchiectasis and COPD, and those with compromised immune systems.

Are those with respiratory illness more likely to catch it?

People of all ages can be infected by COVID-19, but people who are over the age of 70, immunocompromised, or with underlying medical conditions such as severe asthma, are more vulnerable to adverse outcomes from the virus. 

How to keep yourself safe

Advice to everyone is (including those with asthma, COPD, bronchiectasis, or other respiratory conditions):

  • Follow the Ministry of Health guidelines, and stay self-isolated
  • Keep up with your medication as prescribed, and always make sure these are well-stocked (pharmacies will remain open)
  • Follow your asthma action plan, if you do not have one you can download one here, or use the My Asthma App. 
  • Regularly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and thoroughly dry
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
  • 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
  • Practice physical/social distancing of 2 metres 
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs.  We now know that the COVID-19 virus can live on some surfaces for up to 72 hours.
  • Call Healthline on 0800 358 5453 if you have symptoms 

For those with COPD

The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) has provided guidance for those with COPD during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • GOLD strongly encourages people with COPD to follow the advice of the public health teams in their own countries to try to minimise the chance of becoming infected and on when and how to seek help if they show symptoms of the infection.
  • GOLD is not aware of any scientific evidence to support that inhaled (or oral) corticosteroids should be avoided in patients with COPD during the COVID-19 epidemic.
  • COPD patients should maintain their regular therapy.
  • Oxygen therapy should be provided if needed following standard recommendations.

Can I go outside? 

During this time you and your family may go for a walk around the block, and enjoy nature; just ensure you continue to practice physical distancing and keep a 2 metre distance from yourself and other people at all times. If you live with a respiratory illness, use your best judgement when venturing outside on colder days as this can trigger asthma symptoms for some people.

Can I still receive my inhaler prescriptions and other medicines?

Yes, pharmacies will remain open during this time and there should be no disruption to your medication supply. If there were to be any short supply, your medication will be replaced with a generic version and should continue to be as effective as your regular medication. 

Will essential services still be open?  

Yes, throughout all alert levels all essential services will continue to operate. These include:

  • Pharmacies and medical centres 
  • Service stations and dairies (not fast food outlets)
  • Banks
  • Hospitals

For those with respiratory conditions working in essential services*

Although the majority of New Zealanders will now be in self-isolation, there are many of us who continue to work on the front line within essential services. Some of these people may still need to self-isolate depending on how well-controlled their condition is. *We will update this post as more information becomes available, specifically on COVID-19 and what this means for people with asthma working in essential roles.

  • For those with mild, well-controlled asthma: you are able to continue on working, just ensure that you follow stringent hand hygiene, and keep your work and home environment as clean and safe as possible.
  • For those with moderate symptoms: (which can vary greatly), if you are concerned that you may be at higher risk, we recommend discussing your suitability for work with your healthcare practice.
  • For those with severe asthma symptoms: this means your asthma is not under control, and it is recommended you self-isolate at home to minimise your risk of any potential complications from COVID-19. This also applies to those who have a chronic respiratory illness such as brittle asthma, COPD and bronchiectasis.


Should I get the flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine does not protect you against COVID-19 but it will help to reduce demand on hospitals this winter and keep you protected from influenza.

From 18 March, people with chronic respiratory disease will be funded for a FREE seasonal flu vaccine.  This includes:

  • Those with asthma, if on regular preventer therapy.
  • Those with chronic bronchitis, COPD, cystic fibrosis, emphysema.
  • Children aged 4 years and under who have been hospitalised for respiratory illness or have a history of significant respiratory illness.
  • All people 65 years of age and over.

With many medical practices now limiting face-to-face contact, call your GP to find out where your local immunisation centre is. For information about eligibility criteria go to: www.influenza.org.nz/eligibility-criteria

Managing stress and anxiety

It is natural to feel worried or distressed at a time like this, especially if you have a respiratory condition, however looking after your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

For tips on helping to manage your mental wellbeing or taking care of children around COVID-19 the Ministry of Health has advice and tips here.

Support yourself and those around you

  • · Self-isolation does not mean social isolation, it is really important for your mental wellbeing to stay connected to people
  • · Check on friends and those around you by phone or online; staying connected is more important than ever
  • · Try to keep to your normal routine

If you think you may have COVID-19

  • Call Healthline's dedicated COVID-19 hotline on 0800 358 5453 (Healthline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
  • Call your doctor BEFORE turning up to ensure you are not putting people at risk

For more information on these guidelines, visit the Ministry of Health's dedicated COVID-19 website at covid19.govt.nz

Page last updated: 11.00AM, 25 March 2020

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