COVID-19 – Permitted work for Close Contacts

As most will know, COVID-19 is quickly growing in prevalence within the community, and the New Zealand Government has been taking steps to address the growing issue of isolation requirements for close contacts, as this has the potential to cause significant disruptions to businesses and supply chains.
 
On 16 February 2022, the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Requirements for Close Contacts) Order 2022 (“the Order”) was enacted, which is to come into effect from 11.59pm tonight.  The Order updates the self-isolation requirements for close contacts, and outlines when close contacts will be permitted to undertake work during their self-isolation period. 
 
In this article, we cover the key updates within the Order.
 
Close Contacts
 
For the purposes of the Order, “close contact” means a person who has been in a defined space at the same time as or immediately after a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 during that case’s infectious period and as a result is at a significant risk of having been exposed to COVID-19.  However, it does not include a person who is a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19, or a person who lives at the same place of residence as a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19.
 
Pursuant to the Order, a close contact’s self-isolation period will end:

  • 7 days after the close contact’s last potential exposure to COVID-19, if they receive a negative test result from their final COVID-19 test whilst in self-isolation, or
  • at the earlier of:
      • 14 days after the close contact’s last potential exposure to COVID-19, or
      • any earlier time after the first 7 days in self-isolation, if the close contact receives a negative test from their final COVID-19 test whilst in self-isolation. 

Significantly, the Order also outlines when a close contact will be permitted to undertake work during their self-isolation period, being where:

  • the close contact is vaccinated and is asymptomatic (we note this does not currently require the close contact to have received a booster dose)
  • the close contact has returned a negative Rapid Antigen Test (“RAT”) before leaving their place of self-isolation
  • the close contact travels between their place of self-isolation and their workplace by private transport, either alone or with a fellow household resident only, or in a manner specified by the Director-General, and
  • the work is “permitted work”. 

“Permitted work” is defined as:

  • work in a bubble-of-one, being work undertaken in a defined space in which there are no other persons present, or
  • work by a critical worker for a registered business or service. 

Work in a bubble-of-one
 
Close contacts who are undertaking permitted work by working in a “bubble-of-one” must:

  • comply with any face covering requirements specified by the Director-General, and
  • return to their place of self-isolation as soon as practicable if they develop any COVID-19 symptoms. 

Additionally, where work in a bubble-of-one is being undertaken, the business or service must ensure that they have systems in place to ensure, as far as practicable, that:

  • no other person enters the defined space while a close contact is undertaking work in the defined space
  • the close contact remains at least two metres away from any other person when using, entering, or leaving the workplace, and
  • the close contact has access to face coverings, and that the close contact uses the face coverings as directed by the Director-General.

This category of permitted work appears to be very broad, as it will apply to any business or service that can meet the above requirements for the close contact to carry out work in a bubble-of-one.
 
Work by a critical worker for a registered business or service
 
“Critical services” are listed within the Order and includes those services where temporary closure would cause significant economic, social, or physical harm to the community.  It broadly covers:

  • services to meet basic human needs such as the production, manufacturing, distribution, and sale of food
  • health services
  • key public services, such as central and local government services, and emergency services
  • critical support systems such as transport and logistics, news media, lifeline utilities, and critical financial services.

Businesses or services that are considered “critical services” may register themselves on the Government’s critical services register to become a “registered business or service”.
 
Registered businesses or services must provide an authorisation letter to the close contact critical worker, specifying that the close contact is a critical worker and outlining the protocols the close contact will need to follow to mitigate the risk of transmission of COVID-19.  However, a registered business or service must not provide an authorisation letter to a close contact unless:

  • the close contact carries out work for the business or service that cannot be carried out remotely, and
  • the registered business or service has evidence that the close contact is vaccinated.

Close contact critical workers who undertake work during their self-isolation period must:

  • take a RAT before leaving their place of self-isolation to perform permitted work
  • carry an authorisation letter from the registered business or service
  • notify the registered business or service of the RAT result before leaving their place of self-isolation
  • notify the Ministry of Health of the result of their RAT
  • comply with any face covering requirements specified by the Director-General, and
  • return to their place of self-isolation as soon as practicable if they develop COVID-19 symptoms. 

Registered businesses and services must ensure they have systems and processes in place to ensure, as far as practicable, that:

  • the close contact critical worker who must take a RAT is able to notify the registered business or service of the result of that test before leaving their place of self-isolation to undertake permitted work
  • the close contact critical worker has access to face coverings and complies with the face covering requirements specified by the Director-General
  • other workers in the same defined space as the close contact critical worker must also comply with any face covering requirements specified by the Director General, and
  • the close contact critical worker has access to a defined space in which no other persons are present for the purpose of any breaks during which the worker is not wearing a face covering (i.e. a private area where the close contact worker is by themselves and can take their mask off during their breaks). 

Failure to comply with any of the obligations under the Order may amount to an infringement offence, which can carry penalties.
 
If you have any questions regarding the Order, or the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace, please feel free to contact us on 0800 339 002.

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