COVID-19 and cancer

9 June 2020 - Alert level 1 entered

 We are now at Alert Level 1. This means there are no restrictions on returning to work, school, sports and domestic travel, and you can get together with as many people as you want.

  • Controls at the borders remain for those entering New Zealand, including health screening and testing for all arrivals, and mandatory 14 day managed quarantine or isolation.

Cancer centres around New Zealand worked hard during the COVID-19 pandemic to make sure those in active cancer treatment continued to receive treatment. Data collected and analysed by the Cancer Control Agency shows cancer treatment largely continued throughout lockdown.

Now we are at Level 1:

  • Outpatient appointments may be in person or could still be virtual (eg, phone conversation or video call). You will be contacted by your cancer centre with the details
  • If you have a scan or treatment scheduled, please attend this as normal
  • If you have concerns about travelling or coming to the hospital because of your health, please contact your cancer centre before your appointment or treatment
  • If you are unwell, please phone your cancer centre to let them know.

The best source of accurate and up-to-date information about COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) is available on the Ministry of Health website.

People with reduced immunity, including some people living with cancer and those undergoing chemotherapy, are at a higher risk from COVID-19. Information on who is considered at risk and what can be done to manage that risk can be found on the advice for higher risk people page on the Ministry of Health website.

The Golden Rules for everyone at Alert Level 1

  • If you’re sick, stay home. Don’t go to work or school. Don’t socialise.
  • If you have cold or flu symptoms call your doctor or Healthline and make sure you get tested.
  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands.
  • Sneeze and cough into your elbow, and regularly disinfect shared surfaces.
  • If you are told by health authorities to self-isolate you must do so immediately.
  • If you’re concerned about your wellbeing or have underlying health conditions, work with your GP to understand how best to stay healthy.
  • Keep track of where you’ve been and who you’ve seen to help contact tracing if needed. Use the NZ COVID Tracer app as a handy way of doing this.
  • Businesses should help people keep track of their movements by displaying the Ministry of Health QR Code for contact tracing.
  • Stay vigilant. There is still a global pandemic going on. People and businesses should be prepared to act fast to step up Alert Levels if we have to.
  • People will have had different experiences over the last couple of months. Whatever you’re feeling — it’s okay. Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself.

Moving to alert level 2

We are now in alert level 2.

The lockdown has been tough for many people affected by cancer. We have heard many stories of hardship and loss during the last few weeks. We acknowledge the hardship that many of you have faced, the sacrifices made, and the pain that has been felt.

We are thankful that New Zealanders have observed the lockdown. This has meant that people with cancer have mostly been spared the risks of COVID infection.

At Level 2 cancer centres still need to follow physical distancing guidelines which may reduce the number of people able to receive treatment each day. It remains extremely important to protect people living with cancer from the risk of catching COVID-19.

Advice from the National Cancer Agency about services at Level 2:

  • Outpatient appointments may be in person or virtual (e.g. phone conversation or video call), you will be contacted by your cancer centre with the details.
  • If you have a scan scheduled, please attend this as normal.
  • If you have concerns about travelling or coming to the hospital because of your health, please contact your cancer centre BEFORE your appointment or treatment.
  • If you are unwell please phone your cancer centre to let them know.

    It is still safe to come to the hospital. If you are sick the hospital is still the safest place to be.

Read more about cancer treatment and services during alert level 2 here.

If you have questions or concerns, you can call 0800 226 237 CANCER helpline or Health line 0800 611 116 for advice.  

We know this is a difficult time. We continue to be here for you. Please contact your local Cancer Society (phone or email) or our 0800 phone line on 0800 226 237.

  • People with cancer, including those receiving chemotherapy, should continue their treatment. Talk to your treatment team about your specific risks at your next appointment.
  • Get an influenza vaccine if you can. These are free for over 65-year-olds and most people with cancer.
  • Some treatment recommendations may change but these will be discussed with you.
  • If you have a fever, cough or are short of breath, call your oncology treatment team for specific advice.

Go to Ministry of Health website for the latest information or call our 0800 226 237 Cancer Society information line.

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COVID-19 symptoms

COVID-19 infection is caused by a novel coronavirus. It is from a family of viruses that cause colds and cough illnesses.

• Most people show infections around 5-7 days following exposure, but it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to show in some people.

• Common symptoms are fever, cough, and fatigue. Some people also have a sore throat or are breathless. Very few people have runny noses or nasal congestion.

Refer to Ministry of Health information about the virus and its symptoms.


Who is at risk of getting COVID-19

Everyone is at risk of getting this infection. Because this is a new virus, no-one has immunity.

Overseas experience shows us that people with reduced immunity are at higher risk from this virus. This includes people with cancer and those who have recently received chemotherapy or other treatments that weaken the immune system. People in these groups might also be infectious with the virus for longer (‘prolonged virus shedding’).


How to avoid catching COVID-19

COVID-19 infection is spread by contact with respiratory droplets spread in coughs and sneezes. These droplets can be breathed in or can land on surfaces. People who touch those surfaces (including other people’s hands) and then touch their mouth or nose can become infected.

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There are things you can do to protect yourself from getting COVID-19:

• wash your hands often with soap and water or with hand sanitiser for at least 20 seconds

• avoid places where there are a lot of other people and keep more than 1.5 metres away from people with coughs or colds

• clean and disinfect regularly-touched surfaces.

If people have coughs or colds, it is important that you not go to work, school or to social gatherings. You should wear a mask when in public or cover your coughs/sneezes. See Ministry of Health advice.

When to wear a mask

Wearing a mask when you do not have an infection is not advised, even if you have low immunity.

Most people can’t wear masks for long periods and there is a high chance that because the mask is irritating after awhile, that people actually touch their nose, mouth or eyes more when wearing one.

The filtration effectiveness of the mask also decreases once it gets damp (with your breath), so wearing one for hours is not as effective. Masks are best saved for people with coughs or sneezes to protect others, or for healthcare workers who wear them for short periods of time when in close contact with a person with respiratory symptoms.


Is there a vaccine or any medicines, to prevent COVID-19?

There are no vaccines or specific treatments for COVID-19 yet. But it is strongly recommended that you get vaccinated against influenza this year. Dual infections with different viruses are possible and are more likely to cause more serious illness. Please also get a pneumococcal booster if you are due for one – ask your doctor or nurse specialist if these are suitable for you. 


If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or think you have been exposed

If you have not had chemotherapy or immunotherapy treatment or your immune system is not compromised follow these instructions:

If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19, or if you have recently travelled to a country with community-spread of the virus, phone the Healthline team on: 0800 358 5453 (or +64 9 358 5453 if internationally).

Do not go into the hospital, cancer treatment centre, or to your GP without calling ahead.


If you are receiving treatment for cancer (or have recently received treatment)

Your treatment team will give you information about the virus, what to do if you feel unwell, and the steps to take if you do get sick.

• keep attending cancer treatment appointments

• call ahead if you have symptoms

• If you get a fever (temperature of 38°C or above) while on chemotherapy, you should follow the instructions your treatment team has given you for this situation.


Travelling overseas

The SafeTravel website provides travel information for COVID-19. It is advised that all non-essential travel be avoided, especially to any region where there is a high number of cases of COVID-19 in these communities. Be aware that travel insurance does not generally cover COVID-19 or other outbreaks. If you are still considering travel, then seeking advice from a specialist is recommended. There may be a mandatory quarantine period on your return so it is important to have prepared for this.


How can I manage a funeral during lockdown?

In this unprecedented national situation, not being able to have a funeral, tangi or farewell gathering for a loved one or friend is extremely distressing and painful. 

It seems all wrong. However, until such time as restrictions are lifted and gatherings are possible again it's unfortunately part of the new normal in New Zealand. This lockdown time will eventually pass. But in the meantime, your Funeral Director can let you know about the options available for the care of your loved one right now. They can also discuss with you options for gatherings to honour the person’s life at a later date. This information here may be helpful for you to read.


Shopping online

Countdown has put vulnerable customers first for their online shopping service. This means people going through cancer treatment. To take advantage of this:


More information

 Updated 28 April 2020