The New Zealand Government has declared a state of emergency, and at present (until at least 22 April 2020), there are restrictions in place to help fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus.  A key part of the current restrictions is only essential businesses (and those that can operate from home) may remain open to ensure that the public still has access to the necessities of life. However, these businesses need to make sure that they are complying with their Health and Safety obligations. 

Health and Safety:

Businesses need to ensure they put in place measure to minimise the risk of spreading COVID-19 to their staff and their customers, or anyone else that they do business with.  A business that fails to put in place appropriate measures may be in breach of their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act. 

Breaching your Health and Safety obligations can result in employees raising personal grievances which may be costly to resolve.  Business may also face enforcement action by WorkSafe New Zealand (for instance penalties can be imposed). 

Read more about health and safety obligations.

Essential services, what are they?

Essential services are generally defined as those providing the necessities of life, and also the businesses that support those essential businesses. 

Essential businesses can include accommodation and housing, animal services, farming, couriers, transport, and food services, but not in every case.  For instance, in relation to accommodation, existing guests and tenants can remain, but no new guests or tenants should be accommodated (unless it is an emergency).  The same can be said for courier services: only essential deliveries are allowed (for instance PPE), but non-essential deliveries will have to wait until the restrictions have been relaxed. 

Where a business has essential and non-essential parts to it, only the essential parts of the business should remain operational unless they can be run from home.

Food services:

Grocery stores, convenience stores and diaries are allowed to stay open.  Convenience stores and diaries are not allowed to sell self-prepared food products.

Non-food essential services:

Other than food, people will also require access to other essential items.  It is difficult to compile a complete list of items that will fit within this category (as there will be many).  Examples include things like blankets and heaters that people will need to stay warm as we move into the colder months. 

Businesses and customers are expected to self-regulate what they sell and buy, and to think about whether the purchases can wait.  Where the public does not exercise common sense, it is likely that the Government will put in place further restrictions. 


Businesses that provide transport may continue to operate so that the public can continue to access essential services.  Many essential employees will also need to use transport services to get to, and from, work. 

If you are travelling, it is recommended that you carry evidence with you that you are travelling for a legitimate purpose.

Other businesses:

The list of services the Government has classified as essential.  If you are unsure whether your business is an essential service, it is recommended that you seek further advice.  

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