Dr Pete Watson, Interim National Medical Director at Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand, has urged everyone across the motu take sensible precautions to protect themselves, and their friends and whanau from COVID-19 as case numbers rise ahead of the holiday season.

“Over summer, large numbers of people will be travelling for trips or seasonal work. There are more social gatherings and large events, such as festivals, and many of our health care workers will be taking well-deserved leave.” Dr Watson says.

“We need to continue our good health behaviours to ensure we can not only protect ourselves and each other, but help reduce pressure on health providers, urgent care clinics and hospital emergency departments.

“One key thing people can do before they go away is to save the free calling numbers for Healthline 0800 358 5453 or the Disability health helpline 0800 11 12 13 into their phone. The people who answer the call are trained to provide general health and COVID-related health advice.”

Self-testing with a rapid antigen test (RAT) is still a very effective way of finding out if you have COVID-19 and is easy to do. You can get free RATs from a range of locations, including collection sites, some marae and some pharmacies. You can search here for the closest place to get a test.

Dr Watson says if you test positive while you’re away from home and you’re well enough to drive back home you can, but only if you can travel via a private or work vehicle with only your immediate family or household members.

“If that isn’t possible for whatever reason, you need to be able to isolate where you are or find somewhere else to isolate.

“If you don’t have any RATs, consider collecting some now or ordering them in advance of any Christmas and New Year’s holiday travel you have planned, so you’re well prepared,” Dr Watson says.

People who contract COVID-19 on holiday should consider antiviral medication, which is free for those who are eligible, says Dr Watson.

“Antiviral medicines can help you if you're at risk of becoming very sick with COVID-19. They reduce the amount of virus in your body, so you don’t get as sick and you’re less likely to go to hospital.”

Many pharmacies provide antivirals without a prescription, or your usual healthcare provider can write you a prescription for a pharmacy to fill. COVID-19 antiviral medicines are free for eligible people. Find out more at COVID19.health.nz

Current face mask mandates for visitors in healthcare settings also remain in place. You can collect face masks for free when collecting RATs. You can also order them with your RATs through this website: requestrats.covid19.health.nz.

“I encourage anyone heading away this summer to take a look at this check list, hosted on the Unite Against COVID-19 website,” says Dr Watson.

More information about staying COVID-safe this summer can be found here.