COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions
Last updated: Tuesday 25 August 2020

Where can I find the latest information on COVID-19?

What are the key principles of pharmacy practice at COVID-19 Alert Level 1?

What are the key principles of pharmacy practice at COVID-19 Alert Level 2?

What are the key principles of pharmacy practice at COVID-19 Alert Level 3?

Is there an overview of pharmacy practice principles at the different COVID-19 Alert Levels?

Where can I find guidance about face masks for the public?

Where can I find guidance about supply and use of face masks for health workers?

Who do I contact at the DHB to order PPE?

How do we get a COVID-19 Tracer QR Code for the pharmacy?

What are the current contact-tracing requirements for pharmacies at the different COVID-19 Alert Levels?

Can pharmacy staff cross the boundary between COVID-19 Alert Levels for work?

Can I dispense a NZ Electronic Prescription Services (NZePS) prescription that does not have a signature?

Can I dispense a non-NZ Electronic Prescription (NZePS) electronic prescription which does not have a signature?

Has the requirement for original prescription copies of faxed prescriptions been removed?

Are pharmacy quality audits continuing or have they been temporarily suspended?

How long will all-at-once (STAT) dispensing last?

Where do I find information about medicines supply and access?

What is being done to boost security for pharmacies at COVID-19 Alert Level 4?

Do patients still need to wait 20 minutes after their influenza vaccination?

What is the current case definition for COVID-19?

Where can I find information to respond to questions from the public about their medicines and the impact of COVID-19?

How can I educate pharmacy staff on COVID-19?

Where can I find information on supporting the health and well-being of my staff?

What is the Society doing to advocate on behalf of members of the pharmacy profession?

Who can I contact at PSNZ with questions about COVID-19?


Where can I find the latest information on COVID-19?

The Ministry of Health website is the key source of information about COVID-19 for health professionals, and should be checked regularly for the latest advice and guidelines.

The Ministry now also have an app available for health professionals to keep up with the latest information relevant to the health and disability sector and receive notifications when content is added or updated. It is called Āwhina and you can find out more including how to download it on their website.

The Covid-19 website is the key source of information about COVID-19 for members of the public.

For COVID-19 pharmacy-specific information please check our COVID-19 Resource Hub and in particular, the collaborative document titled ‘Pharmacy Practice during the COVID-19 Pandemic’ which contains all practice related information in one place and is updated regularly. The 'COVID-19 Community Pharmacy Response Framework' summarises the key principles for pharmacy across the 4 Alert Levels.

What are the key principles of pharmacy practice at COVID-19 Alert Level 1?

At COVID-19 Alert Level 1, all retail businesses are open for workers and customers. Health and disability care services are encouraged to operate normally, though it is likely that remote consultations will continue (where appropriate) at a higher level than prior to COVID-19 due to the increased flexibility they offer health service users. 

Some key considerations for pharmacies at Level 1 are:

  • The risk of COVID-19 in the community is low. However, core infection prevention control measures such as stringent hygiene practices, regular cleaning and monitoring the health of the team should continue, particularly during the cold and flu season. 
  • Approaches to managed entry such as active triage at the pharmacy door are not necessary at Alert Level 1, but it is still important to implement measures to remind people not to enter the pharmacy if they have symptoms of COVID-19 and to call Healthline on 0800 358 5453 to find out about whether testing is needed. Editable signs are available on the Society website.
  • Pharmacies should continue to consider their options for people with symptoms of respiratory infection needing medicines and other pharmacy services (e.g. home delivery, telephone or video counselling and information support).
  • Continue to communicate with your community using various means (e.g. website, Facebook, e-mail, signs) about the pharmacy services available at Level 1.
  • Overall, review the need to continue measures implemented under higher levels but be mindful of preparedness for moving up levels again quickly, if needed.  

Physical distancing
There are no obligations for businesses to enforce physical distancing.

Contact tracing
There are no formal requirements for pharmacies to maintain records for contact tracing. However, members of the public are encouraged to maintain their own record of places they visit using the NZ COVID Tracer App.

What are the key principles of pharmacy practice at COVID-19 Alert Level 2?

At COVID-19 Alert Level 2, all retail businesses can be open for workers and customers if they operate safely in a way that minimises risk of transmission of infection. Health and disability care services are encouraged to operate normally as far as possible but also to continue with remote consultations where practical.

In addition to ongoing stringent hygiene practices and frequent cleaning, key points for pharmacies at Level 2 are:

  • Receipt of prescriptions by paperless means where possible is still recommended. The Ministry of Health waivers for NZePS and non-NZePS signatureless prescriptions are still in force. The temporary suspension of the need for original prescriptions to be obtained before be claiming also continues. 
  • Contactless sales where possible are still recommended. Approaches to providing support for vulnerable populations while reducing physical interactions (e.g. home delivery, telephone or video counselling and information support) are still encouraged.
  • Continue to communicate with your community using various means (e.g. website, Facebook, e-mail, signs) about the pharmacy services available at Level 2. Ensure hours of opening are clearly visible on signs for the public and pharmacy website.
  • Plan for how to provide medicines and pharmacy services to patients with symptoms of respiratory tract infection/and those being tested for COVID-19 while maintaining minimal/no contact.
  • Review whether you need to continue measures implemented under Levels 3 and 4 to support business continuity e.g. split shifts.
  • Plan for increased sick leave as staff with any potential symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to stay home.
  • Access health and wellbeing resources to support pharmacy staff where required (see Society website).
  • Continue to liaise with your DHB pharmacy portfolio manager and/or your local community pharmacy groups, about any workforce issues or additional workforce requirements.

Physical distancing

  • Ensure all people (excludes workers) on the work premises or who use its services keep two metres away from each other and from the workers wherever possible
  • Ensure all workers keep one metre away from each other wherever possible
  • Manage the risk of COVID-19 spread if physical distances cannot be met or maintained

Contact tracing

It is now mandatory at COVID-19 Alert Level 2 for all businesses and services to display a NZ COVID-Tracer QR Code in a prominent place at or near the main entrances in order to support members of the public to record their own movements to facilitate contact tracing if necessary. 

The QR code generation process has been streamlined since the app was first released with a self-service webform now available — you will need a valid New Zealand driver licence and your NZ Business number (NZBN) or Business Industry Classification Code (BIC).  There is a helpful video outlining the process on the Ministry of Health website.

At COVID-19 Alert Level 2, it is also a requirement to have an alternative option for people who do not have the app e.g. a paper contact tracing register.  A template is available on the COVID-19 Government website as well as advice to keep contact tracing registers in a secure place for 2 months. Once all records on a page are 2 months old, they should be destroyed. You should only share your register with the Ministry of Health or District Health Boards.

You are not required to ensure customers scan the poster/complete the register before entering your pharmacy. You are required to have a system in place, but not to enforce the system.   

What are the key principles of pharmacy practice at COVID-19 Alert Level 3?

Government advice for essential businesses for Level 3 remained the same as that for Level 4. For pharmacy this includes managed entry into the pharmacy, physical distancing within the pharmacy, stringent hygiene measures, frequent cleaning, receipt of prescriptions by paperless means wherever possible, contactless sales wherever possible, and other approaches to reduce interactions such as home delivery, telephone counselling and information support.

Other key points include:

  • Prioritise work when under pressure and continue to adopt measures to ease pressure where possible e.g. closing for a period at lunchtime (ensure hours of opening are clearly visible on signs for the public and pharmacy website)
  • Measures to support business continuity such as split shifts may be implemented
  • Access health and wellbeing resources to support pharmacy staff where required (see Society website)
  • Liaise with your pharmacy portfolio manager about any workforce issues or additional workforce requirements

Further information about measures to protect patients and the pharmacy team, managing entry into the pharmacy, cleaning, and delivery services can be found in the collaborative Pharmaceutical Society, Pharmacy Guild and Green Cross Health Pharmacy practice during the COVID-19 pandemic document.

Physical distancing

  • Ensure all people (excludes workers) on the work premises or who use its services keep two metres away from each other and from the workers wherever possible
  • Ensure all workers keep one metre away from each other wherever possible
  • Manage the risk of COVID-19 spread if physical distances cannot be met or maintained

Contact Tracing

It is now mandatory for all businesses and services to display a NZ COVID-Tracer QR Code in a prominent place at or near the main entrances in order to support members of the public to record their own movements to facilitate contact tracing if necessary. You are not required to ensure customers scan the poster before entering your pharmacy. You are required to have a system in place, but not to enforce the system.   

The QR code generation process has been streamlined since the app was first released with a self-service webform now available — you will need a valid New Zealand driver licence and your NZ Business number (NZBN) or Business Industry Classification Code (BIC).  There is a helpful video outlining the process on the Ministry of Health website.

At COVID-19 Alert Level 3 pharmacies are not required to provide an alternative to the QR code for recording contact details of visitors to the premises. 

Is there an overview of pharmacy practice principles at the different COVID-19 Alert Levels?

Yes, the ‘Community Pharmacy COVID-19 Response Framework’ developed collaboratively by the professional support teams at the Pharmaceutical Society, Pharmacy Guild and Green Cross Health provides this overview.

Where can I find guidance about face masks for the public?

The Ministry of Health website has a section for members of the public on the use of face masks in the community.

Where can I find guidance about supply and use of face masks for health workers?

The Ministry of Health website section on personal protective equipment use in health and disability care settings is the best place to look for the most current advice.

The Ministry of Health website has a section on  PPE supply and distribution for different categories of business at the different alert levels.

Who do I contact at the DHB to order PPE

Click this link to access the latest DHB PPE Co-ordinator contact list.

How do we get a COVID-19 Tracer QR Code for the pharmacy?

The QR code generation process has been streamlined since the app was first released with a self-service webform now available — you will need a valid New Zealand driver licence and your NZ Business number (NZBN) or Business Industry Classification Code (BIC). 

There is a helpful video outlining the process on the Ministry of Health website.

What are the current contact-tracing requirements for pharmacies at the different COVID-19 Alert Levels?

As well as the new requirement for all businesses and services to display the NZ COVID-Tracer QR code at COVID-19 Alert Levels 2 and 3:

At Level 2, pharmacies must have an alternative option for people who do not have the app e.g. a paper contact tracing register. A template is available on the COVID-19 Government website as well as advice to keep contact tracing registers in a secure place for 2 months. Once all records on a page are 2 months old, they should be destroyed. You should only share your register with the Ministry of Health or District Health Boards.

You are not required to ensure customers scan the poster/complete the register before entering your pharmacy. You are required to have a system in place, but not to enforce the system. 

At Level 3, pharmacies are not required to provide an alternative to the QR code for recording contact details of visitors to the premises.

Can pharmacy staff cross the boundary between COVID-19 Alert Levels for work?

Yes, the Ministry of Health has confirmed that healthcare workers (including pharmacy staff) can pass through checkpoints if they can present photo identification from their place of work. If they don’t have a work photo ID, they will need to have:

  • a letter from their employer confirming place of work, and dates and reason for travel, and
  • a form of photo identification, such as a New Zealand driver licence or passport.

If staff do not have any photo identification, a photo contained within the letter from the employer where the name matches other identification (e.g. an APC) is recommended.

Can I dispense a NZ Electronic Prescription Services (NZePS) prescription that does not have a signature?

Yes, a Director-General of Health waiver to the Medicines Regulations 1984 is in place to allow prescriptions that are not physically signed provided the following conditions are met:

  • The prescription is for non-controlled drugs only; and
  • The prescription is a NZePS barcoded prescription; and
  • The system that generates the prescription has been authorised by the Ministry of Health for signature exempt prescriptions; and
  • The prescription is scanned and downloaded from NZePS at a community pharmacy.

Several primary care prescribing systems now enable prescribers set up for NZePS to generate a PDF version of a prescription and e-mail it directly to a pharmacy of the patient’s choice.

The PDF prescription will not have a physical signature, but it will have an NZePS bar code.

The PDF prescription is to be printed by the pharmacy, scanned and downloaded from the NZePS. There is no need for an original to be provided for non-Controlled Drug prescriptions. Controlled Drug prescriptions still require an original signed prescription to be received by the pharmacy.

The prescribing systems currently authorised by the Ministry of Health to pilot this are MedTech32, MedTech Evolution, MyPractice, Indici and Medimap.

This is an enduring waiver which means it will continue on after COVID-19.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about remote prescribing are available on the MoH website. If you have any questions please email onlinehelpdesk@health.govt.nz.

Can I dispense a non-NZ Electronic Prescription (NZePS) electronic prescription which does not have a signature?

It will depend on the circumstances. For community and hospital prescribers that do not use a system that can integrate with NZePS, the Director-General of Health has approved a temporary waiver that authorises prescriptions that are not signed personally by a prescriber with their usual signature to be recognised as legal prescriptions if they meet certain conditions, ensuring easy identification of the authorised prescriber and the healthcare facility.

This temporary waiver covers settings where NZePS is not currently an option e.g. hospital discharge and outpatient prescribing, community prescribing from dentists, midwives, and allied health clinicians.

The conditions of the temporary waiver are laid out in this linked Ministry of Health document titled New rules for electronic prescriptions to support virtual care in the community.

This temporary waiver is due to expire when the Epidemic Preparedness (Covid-19) Notice 2020 expires on the 24th September 2020 or if it is revoked sooner.

See also 'summary of waivers and suspensions' as at 24 June 2020.

Has the requirement for original prescription copies of faxed prescriptions been removed?

Enforcement of the obligation to obtain an original of a faxed prescription during the state of emergency was suspended by the Ministry of Health on the conditions set out below:

  • each faxed prescription must otherwise be fully compliant with regulation 41 of the Medicines Regulations 1984
  • the suspension will not apply to controlled drugs prescriptions which will continue to require an original prescriber signature; and

The suspension was originally only to apply to ‘dispensing activity by pharmacies that occurred during Level 3 or 4 Covid-19 Alert System periods and for the time period prior from 1 March 2020 (inclusive) to close of business 23 March 2020 and for any other such other period as the Ministry may subsequently advise in writing.’ 

Since then, the Ministry of Health has advised that the suspension is extended to align with the expiry of the Epidemic Preparedness (Covid-19) Notice 2020 which is on 24th September 2020 unless revoked earlier. See also 'summary of waivers and suspensions' as at 24 June 2020

Faxed prescriptions meeting the suspension conditions will not be subject to adverse audit comment or recovery action during future audits.

Are pharmacy quality audits continuing or have they been temporarily suspended?

They were temporarily suspended but recommenced the week starting Monday 13 July 2020. Medsafe will continue to regularly review the situation and notify the sector if there are any future changes to the Pharmacy Quality Audit programme. 

Please contact Medicines Control directly ( medicinescontrol@health.govt.nz) should you have any queries.

How long will all-at-once (STAT) dispensing last?

PHARMAC made a number of changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  This included a switch to monthly dispensing on 26 March 2020.  However, the switch back to all-at-once (stat) dispensing was made on 31 July 2020. PHARMAC is monitoring situation in response the latest outbreak but at this stage there has been no move away from all-at-once (stat) dispensing.

The ‘Retail pharmacy – Specialist’ restriction was removed on a range of medicines from 1 April 2020. The PHARMAC website lists all medicines affected. PHARMAC also eased special authority restrictions on certain medicines.  A consultation was undertaken in July about whether some of these changes may be maintained indefinitely and/or a suitable timeline for resumption of previous criteria. We expect to hear the outcome soon.

Information about specific medicines in short-supply is available from the PHARMAC website and updated regularly.

Where do I find information about medicines supply and access?

See the PHARMAC website COVID-19 section for more detail about these changes and any current supply issues.

Medicines supply advice for the public

People on regular medicines should always have enough for at least 1 – 2 weeks. Close co-ordination between prescribers and pharmacists, particularly for our most vulnerable people, will help them receive their medicines in a timely way, and maintain community confidence in the resilience of the medicines supply system.

People on regular medicines may be anxious about continuity of medicines supply, and seek to stockpile medicines – by, for example, asking for:

  • a fresh 3-month prescription soon after the previous
  • early dispensing of outstanding prescription repeats
  • all-at-once (stat) dispensing of prescription medicines usually dispensed monthly, or
  • large quantities of pharmacist-only, pharmacy-only or retail sale medicines.

All health professionals are asked to:

  • decline such requests, as patient stockpiling of medicines will potentially lead to more medicine stock shortages, and
  • reassure people that PHARMAC, pharmacies and suppliers continue to work closely together to maintain continuous medicines supply, and to minimise and fairly distribute any medicines in short supply.

Prescribing for people receiving dose-packed medicines

Another threat to medicines supply is avoidable medicines waste. Changes to medicines for people receiving dose-packed medicines, if not aligned with pharmacy dose-packing cycles, can mean many medicines already packed must be disposed of. Prescribers for people who receive dose-packed medicines, in their own home or in residential care, can help minimise medicines waste by indicating on the prescription or medicine chart whether a change:

  • must be immediate, or
  • may be implemented with the next dose-pack.

What is being done to boost security for pharmacies at COVID-19 Alert Level 4?

The security concerns of the community pharmacy sector during COVID-19 Alert Level 4 were raised with the Police Major Operations Centre and the Police Intelligence Section. Messaging was disseminated to police services nationally reminding them that pharmacy is an essential service and has particular security considerations that need to be factored into police activities in support of the COVID-19 national emergency response.

Pharmacy is advised to call 111 not 105 if they require police assistance.

Pharmacy is also advised that if they observe suspicious behaviour such as people loitering around their premises then they should contact the police immediately as this in of itself a breach of the national emergency criteria.

Do patients still need to wait 20 minutes after their influenza vaccination?

Not necessarily. IMAC has recognised that during the 2020 Influenza season, the risk of exposure to infectious disease in waiting areas may be higher than the low risk of anaphylactic events and have released a position statement that specifies certain situations where a 20-minute wait post- influenza vaccination may not be needed. That is, adolescents and adults who meet ALL the following criteria may not need to wait for 20 minutes post-vaccination:

  1. do not have a history of severe allergic reactions
  2. have been assessed for any immediate post vaccination adverse reactions (5 minutes)
  3. are aware of when they need to and how to seek post-vaccination advice
  4. will have another adolescent or adult with them for the first 20 minutes post vaccination
  5. have the ability to contact emergency services if required.

What is the current case definition for COVID-19?

The current case definition for COVID-19 is available on the Ministry of Health website.

Where can I find information to respond to questions from the public about their medicines and the impact of COVID-19?

Much information and misinformation about medicines and COVID-19 is circulating on the internet and social media channels and people are asking pharmacists and other health professionals for advice.

The Christchurch Medicines Information Service have a section on their website titled ' Medicines and COVID-19' to provide information to assist health professionals in New Zealand respond to such questions/concerns from the public about medicines and COVID-19.

Issues addressed include questions about ibuprofen, ACE-inhibitors and chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine. This useful resource will be continually updated.

How can I educate pharmacy staff on COVID-19?

Pharmacy staff are an important resource for educating the public and helping to minimise spread of COVID-19. The resources on the Ministry of Health website designed for the public will be useful for educating your staff so they can reinforce Ministry advice when people seek information in the pharmacy.

Where can I find information on supporting the health and well-being of my staff?

The Ministry of Health are providing support for frontline health and disability workers in the form of confidential psychological support which can be accessed either by phone or video via a dedicated number – 0800 820 080.

There is also a section on our website which lists a range of resources including the recording of a question and answer webinar on health and welling during COVID-19 held during lockdown.

What is the Society doing to advocate on behalf of members of the pharmacy profession?

During the last several months pharmacy sector leads came together to identify barriers and issues associated with pharmacy delivering services in the COVID-19 environment and to obtain solutions. The DHB COVID-19 Pharmacy Sector Lead Group consisted of people from Ministry of Health, DHB Planning and Funding, TAS, the Society, the Pharmacy Guild, community pharmacy corporate group representatives, Maori Pharmacists Association, Clinical Advisory Pharmacists’ Association, Pharmacy Council, and community pharmacy groups. The Society President, Chief Executive and Manager of Practice and Policy were strong contributors to the group.

Funding packages for pharmacy were addressed, regulated processes changed to facilitate better operations such as receipt of prescriptions electronically direct from prescribers, flu vaccine provision was expanded for vulnerable populations and health workers (including pharmacy staff) and supply chain issues were highlighted.

The Society adopted a lead position proposing a range of expanded or new services that could help to support vulnerable patient populations, including the elderly, neglected chronic conditions, and people with other underlying health conditions making them vulnerable. The premise being that the New Zealand health system needs to address COVID-19 created vulnerable patient populations in the next 6-18 months.

Our practice pharmacists continue to meet with Ministry of Health officials and other health sector organisations to ensure member concerns are being heard and addressed. During this time they worked in close collaboration with counterparts at the Pharmacy Guild and Green Cross Health to develop a regularly updated document to support rapidly changing pharmacy practice during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who can I contact at PSNZ with questions about COVID-19?

The Society’s practice support team is available by phone or e-mail. Please continue to e-mail questions, comments and feedback to practice@psnz.org.nz.

Disclaimer: The New Zealand environment continues to change rapidly for the management of COVID-19. This information is based on the current situation at the time of publishing.