COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions
Last updated: Monday 9 June 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?

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?

Where do the rules around public health measures such as contact tracing come from?

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.

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

New Zealand moved to COVID-19 Alert Level 1 on Tuesday 9 June 2020. 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 now very 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. The Ministry of Health are looking at a system to bulk produce NZ COVID Tracer QR codes for individual pharmacies. We understand further information will be sent directly to pharmacies.

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

New Zealand moved to COVID-19 Alert Level 2 on Thursday 14 May 2020. 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. See summary table later in this document.
  • 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 this winter 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.

On Thursday 14 May, the Minister of Health issued the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Alert Level 2) Order 2020. This order puts in place obligations for businesses and services to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Based on this order, WorkSafe advice for all retail environments in relation to physical distancing and contact tracing is:

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

  • contact tracing records for customers entering the pharmacy are not required
  • keep contact tracing records or register for all workers and those who carry out work for the business or service.

Pharmacy can continue as per COVID-19 Alert Level 3 in relation to physical distancing (2 metres) and contact tracing (not required).

The collaborative Pharmaceutical Society, Pharmacy Guild and Green Cross Health Pharmacy practice during the COVID-19 pandemic document contains information on infection prevention and control, delivery services, waivers and exemption notices and other aspects of pharmacy practice affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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

New Zealand moved from COVID-19 Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 3 on Tuesday 28th April. Government advice for essential businesses for Level 3 remained the same as that for Level 4.

For pharmacy this included 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.

Pharmacies were advised to remain vigilant and continue to operate with these robust protocols because while the burden of disease in New Zealand was low, bubble size was expanding with the move to Level 3. There will be more people moving around within their communities and use of various health services will increase. Vulnerable people remain at home during Level 3 so continue to need additional support.

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 should continue where possible
  • Access health and wellbeing resources to support pharmacy staff where required (see Society website)
  • Continue to liaise with your pharmacy portfolio manager about any workforce issues or additional workforce requirements
  • There is no need to record details of people attending the pharmacy during Alert Level 3 (confirmed with the Ministry of Health)

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

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 will be 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.

Where do the rules around public health measures such as contact tracing come from?

COVID-19 Alert Level 4 - The country went into Alert Level 4 - Lockdown at 11:59 pm on Wednesday 25th March 2020. This was governed by the Epidemic Notice and the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act. The Director General of Health signed the Section70(1)(m) Health Act Order requiring all premises to be closed, except for essential businesses. Pharmacies were considered essential and remained open. There was no requirement for recording details of people entering the premises. This was confirmed via correspondence with the Ministry of Health.

COVID-19 Alert Level 3 - The country moved to Alert Level 3 at 11:59 pm on 27th April 2020 when the Health Act (COVID-19 Alert Level 3) Order 2020 passed on 24th April 2020 came into force. Pharmacy was classed as a Category B business and there was no requirement to record details of people entering the premises. This was also confirmed via correspondence with the Ministry of Health.

COVID-19 Alert Level 2 – The country moved to Alert Level 2 at 11:59 pm on Wednesday 13th May 2020. On Thursday 14 May, the Minister of Health issued the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Alert Level 2) Order 2020 . This order put in place obligations for businesses and services to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Based on this order, WorkSafe advice for all retail environments in relation to physical distancing and contact tracing is:

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

  • contact tracing records for customers entering the pharmacy are not required
  • keep contact tracing records or register for all workers and those who carry out work for the business or service.

Pharmacy can continue as per COVID-19 Alert Level 3 in relation to physical distancing (2 metres) and contact tracing (not required).

COVID-19 Alert Level 1 – The country moved to Alert Level 1 at 11:59 on Monday 8th June 2020. At Level 1 there are no specific public health measures therefore a Health Act Order was not issued.

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. The Ministry of Health are looking at a system to bulk produce NZ COVID Tracer QR codes for individual pharmacies. We understand further information will be sent directly to pharmacies.

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

They have been temporarily suspended. Medsafe is aware of the additional workload and pressure on the pharmacy sector as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Medsafe has decided to temporarily suspend site audits carried out under the Pharmacy Quality Audit Programme Framework to help pharmacies maintain their workflow.

The decision will be reviewed on 1 July 2020 and the sector will be informed when auditing under the framework begins again.

Medsafe will continue to respond to public safety risks on a case by case basis, including the licensing of new premises. Please contact Medicines Control directly ( medicinescontrol@health.govt.nz) should you have any queries.

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

PHARMAC placed temporary restrictions on dispensing for all community medicines to just one month’s supply (or three months for oral contraceptives) on Thursday 26 March 2020. 

Pharmacists are still able to make exceptions to dispense up to three-months supply for certain people, specifically those with mobility issues, who live rurally, those who are immuno-compromised and the elderly. 

PHARMAC have now published information on their website about the plan for returning to all-at-once dispensing. They advise that medicine supply chains are affected by the impact of COVID-19 in the rest of the world and they need to be assured there is enough medicine available in New Zealand and in the supply chain. They also highlight that the sector (suppliers, wholesalers, distributors, pharmacy) also needs time to prepare for a return to all-at-once dispensing.

When the time comes, PHARMAC will give no less than 3 weeks’ notice. 

There is a poster available for download to help explain the situation to patients.

Where do I find information about medicines supply and access?

PHARMAC has made a range of changes to support medicines access and supply continuity during the COVID-19 Pandemic. These include the switch to monthly dispensing, removal of retail specialist recommendations, changes to some special authorities, and the automatic extension of some special authorities and NPPAs. 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.