Understanding the COVID-19 Alert Levels

On the 21st March, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed that New Zealand was working to an alert level in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

If you’re having trouble understanding what these levels mean, we break them down below.

Please note that the restrictions and guidelines in each level are subject to change. Refer to the COVID-19 website for more information.



At this phase, the disease is considered contained

At Alert Level 1, people can return to work, school, sports, domestic travel, events and gatherings, without restrictions. The borders are controlled, including screening and testing, and there is a mandatory 14 day quarantine for incoming travellers.

Continue to keep track of where you’ve been and who you’ve seen to assist with contact tracing. Stay at home if you are sick and report any flu-like symptoms.


  • COVID-19 is uncontrolled overseas
  • Isolated household transmission could be occurring in New Zealand

Measures put in place

  • Border entry measures to minimise risk of importing COVID-19 cases
  • Intensive testing for COVID-19
  • Rapid contact tracing of any positive case – self-isolation and quarantine required
  • Schools and workplaces open, and must operate safely
  • No restrictions on personal movement but people are encouraged to maintain a record of where they have been
  • No restrictions on gatherings but organisers encouraged to maintain records to enable contact tracing
  • Stay home if you’re sick, report flu-like symptoms
  • Wash and dry your hands, cough into your elbow, don’t touch your face
  • No restrictions on domestic transport — avoid public transport or travel if you’re sick
  • No restrictions on workplaces or services but they are encouraged to maintain records to enable contact tracing


Disease is contained, but risk of community transmission


  • High risk of importing Covid-19
  • Household transmission could be occurring
  • Single or isolated cluster outbreaks

Measures put in place

  • People can connect with friends and family (subject to limited numbers – as at 14th May, this is a maximum of 10), shop, travel (in NZ), but must follow public health guidance
  • Physical distancing of two metres from people you don’t know when out in public is recommended, with one metre physical distancing in controlled environments like workplaces
  • Public venues and businesses open but must comply with public health measures including physical distancing and contact tracing
  • Indoor or outdoor gatherings restricted to 100 but with public health measures in place
  • Alternative ways of working encouraged where possible, for example remote working, shift-based working, physical distancing, staggering meal breaks, flexible leave
  • Schools, early learning services and tertiary education centres open with appropriate measures in place
  • Sport and recreation activities allowed, subject to conditions on gatherings, contact tracing, and – where practical – physical distancing
  • Health care services operate as normal
  • People at higher-risk of severe illness from COVID-19 (those with underlying medical conditions, especially if not well-controlled, and seniors) are encouraged to take additional precautions when leaving home. They may work, if they agree with their employer that they can do so safely.
  • ** The Auckland region moved to Alert Level 2 at 11:59pm on Sunday 30 August 2020. There are currently extra restrictions on social gatherings, funerals and tangihanga in the Auckland region. Restrictions on gatherings in Auckland **


There’s a heightened risk the disease is not contained


  • Community transmission might be happening
  • New clusters may emerge but can be controlled through testing and contact tracing

Measures put in place:

  • People instructed to stay home in their bubble other than for essential personal movement
  • Physical distancing of two metres outside home including on public transport, or 1 metre in controlled environments like schools and workplaces
  • Bubbles can expand to reconnect exclusively with close family/whānau, or bring in caregivers, or support isolated people
  • Schools between years 1 to 10 and early learning centres can safely open but children should learn at home if possible
  • People must work from home unless that is not possible
  • Businesses can open premises, but cannot physically interact with customers
  • Low-risk local recreation activities are allowed
  • Public venues, retail shops, restaurants and bars are closed
  • Non-contact shopping and takeaway food is allowed
  • Gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed but only for wedding services, funerals and tangihanga with physical distancing
  • Healthcare services use virtual, non-contact consultations where possible
  • Inter-regional travel is highly limited
  • People at high risk of severe illness such as older people and those with existing medical conditions are encouraged to stay at home where possible


It’s likely that the disease is not contained


  • Community transmission is occurring
  • Widespread outbreaks and new clusters

Measures put in place:

  • People instructed to stay at home
  • Educational facilities closed
  • Businesses closed except for essential services (ie: supermarkets, pharmacies, clinics and lifeline utilities)
  • Rationing of supplies and requisitioning of facilities
  • Travel severely limited
  • Major reprioritisation of health services

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