Learn about your human rights in relation to COVID-19

Even in times of crisis, people have human rights that safeguard their dignity. Even in times of emergency, human rights place binding obligations upon the Government to abide by the commitments they have made. The Government has obligations to limit the spread of COVID-19, but restrictions must be necessary, proportionate and respectful of human dignity. The Government has Te Tiriti o Waitangi and human rights obligations to protect people’s economic and social rights, as well as their civil and political rights. The following guide provides answers to the frequently asked questions we've received in relation to COVID-19 and human rights.


General human rights

People in detention

Police Authority


Family Violence

Older people


General human rights

Why must COVID19 decisions be based on human rights?

The New Zealand government must support people who could be worst affected in the crisis. Government and businesses must consider human rights under the Human Rights Act 1993 when making decisions.

In emergencies, governments may be allowed to restrict certain human rights. Any restrictions must be legal and at the lowest level needed.

How much rights and freedoms under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act (BORA) can be restricted in an emergency is also limited. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the grounds for restricting human rights in a public health emergency must be legal, necessary, reasonable and based on scientific evidence (link)

People in detention

Where should I go if I have concerns about my or someone else’s treatment or conditions in detention?

A person who is in government-managed detention, which they are not free to leave, is defined as a person in detention under international human rights law. This includes prisons, police cells, Oranga Tamariki residences, intellectual disability units, acute mental health units, aged care facilities, and temporary places of detention for quarantine purposes, like hotels and campervans. We encourage you to call us on 0800 496 877 or contact the Independent Police Conduct Authority on 0800 503 728, Children’s Commissioner on 0800 224 453, or the Ombudsman on 0800 326 778.

I’ve recently returned from overseas and have been placed in a hotel and told I can’t leave for the next two weeks, what rights do I still have?

Except for limitations necessary to stop the spread of COVID19, people placed in quarantine of managed isolation under the direction of the Ministry of Health should have all the same rights as someone who is in self-isolation in their own home. You should still have enough nutritious food, access to hygiene facilities ability to contact your friends and family, an ability to exercise and a range of purposeful activity. You are also entitled to full information about why you are being detained and how long for. You are still entitled to seek independent legal and medical advice. You are still entitled to be treated with dignity.

I live in a disability/aged care residential facility and they’ve told me my family can’t visit me until the lockdown is over. Can they do that?

The Ministry of Health has instructed disability and aged care residential facilities to stop all non-essential services and family visits. This is because older people often have underlying health issues, including respiratory issues that make them more vulnerable to COVID19, and aged care facilities are particularly susceptible to the rapid transmission of viruses. If you are receiving palliative care, your family can continue to visit you, but they will have to take extra precautions. Even though your family can’t visit you in person, you should still be able to contact your friends and family over the phone or through video calls. Unless you have been diagnosed or are suspected to have COVID19, or there are cases in your residential facility, you should still be able to do most of your daily routine. If you do get sick with the virus, staff will isolate you in your room to make sure it doesn’t spread to other people. You should still have enough nutritious food, access to hygiene facilities (and assistance in showering or other activities, if necessary), access to medical treatment, and the ability to call your family while you are in isolation.

Police Authority

What rights do I have when interacting with the Police?

In all interactions with Police, you have the right to be treated with dignity and respect. You have the right:

  • not to be discriminated against for any reason set out under the Human Rights Act 1993 e.g. sex, race, disability
  • to be informed what the Police powers are during the lockdown and to expect they are being applied fairly and consistently.
  • to accessible information about what your legal rights are and to communication support to ensure that these rights have been understood.    

The powers used by Police must be proportionate and only to the extent necessary to prevent the virus spreading.

What powers do the police have during the state of emergency?

The Police have the following powers during a State of National Emergency:

  • Evacuate any premises or place, or exclude persons or vehicles from any premises or place where such action is necessary for the preservation of human life
  • Enter, and if necessary, break into any premises or place within the emergency area where it is believed on reasonable grounds that the action is necessary for saving life, or preventing injury, or rescuing and removing injured or endangered persons or permitting or facilitating the carrying out of any urgent measures in respect of the relief of suffering or distress
  • Totally or partially restrict public access on any road or public place
  • Remove any aircraft, hovercraft, ship or ferry or other vessel, or vehicle impeding civil defence operations and where reasonably necessary for that purpose the use of force or breaking into any such aircraft, hovercraft, ship or ferry or other vessel, or vehicle
  • Requisition a wide range of resources, where such action is urgently necessary for the preservation of human life
  • Direct any person to stop any activity that may cause or substantially contribute to an emergency, or request any person either verbally or in writing to take any action to prevent or limit the extent of the emergency
  • Examine, mark, seize, sample, secure, disinfect, or destroy any property, animal, or other thing in order to prevent or limit the extent of the emergency

Further, where the Director, a Controller, or a person authorised by a Civil Defence Emergency Management  Group considers that an imminent threat of an emergency exists, the Police may be issued with a warrant by a District Court Judge. The powers conferred by the warrant include the power of entry and search and seize to obtain information required urgently to prevent or limit the extent of the emergency or where a person in possession of information has refused to provide the information. This could be any time of day or night and includes the ability to use reasonable force. It also includes the ability to

What additional legal rights do people under the age of 18 have?

Children and young people (under 18 years) have particular rights set out under the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989. Children or young persons are to be informed of their rights before being questioned by enforcement officers, charged with an offence or arrested and explanations must be given in a manner and in language that is appropriate to the age and level of understanding of the child or young person. An enforcement officer should consider a warning as an alternative to prosecution. 

What legal rights do I have if I am detained or arrested by Police?

If you are questioned, detained or arrested by Police, your legal rights are:

  • you can talk to a lawyer privately, without having to wait to see them
  • you can choose not to make a statement
  • you can ask why you are being questioned, detained, or arrested
  • Police have a list of the names and phone numbers of lawyers qualified to give advice and who have agreed to be contacted any time, day or night.

Who should I contact if I have concerns about my treatment by police?

If you have a concern with the way you have been treated by police, you can make a complaint via the following mechanisms:


Does the Government need to ensure employees have the right to safe working conditions during COVID19?

Employees have the right to work and to the enjoyment of just and favorable working conditions. This includes the ability to make a decent living for themselves and their families and to safe and healthy working conditions. Duties to provide safe and healthy working conditions are primarily set out under New Zealand law in the Health and Safety and Work Act 2015 and the Holidays Act 2003. Guidance for employees, employers and businesses, and financial support is available at the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.

Do employers have human rights obligations towards their employees during COVID19?

Employees have the right to be free from discrimination including on the grounds of disability, age, nationality or ethnicity or migration status. The Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1993 provide protections from discrimination in employment. If an employee considers their rights have been breached or have been discriminated against, they can take action through a personal grievance claim or a compliant to the Human Rights Commission. The business sector also has a responsibility to protect human rights during this crisis, as set out under the United Nations Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights and highlighted by UN Experts recently.

Can my employer tell my coworkers about my COVID19 diagnosis even if I don’t give them permission to share it?

Under the Privacy Act there is a general obligation not to use or disclose personal information, unless an exception applies. There are exceptions that permit disclosure, including where you believe the disclosure is necessary to prevent or lessen the risk of a serious threat to someone’s safety, wellbeing or health. Under this exception, when dealing with an employee who may have contracted a highly contagious disease, it may be necessary for an employer to advise other employees so they can monitor themselves for possible symptoms and, if needed, go into self-isolation. You can talk to your employer about what details they will share. For example, your work colleagues might need to know whether you are in hospital or at home, so that they can plan their own work and make sure your job is covered. You can find out more information about your privacy rights from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

Family Violence

What should I do if I find myself in an abusive situation during COVID-19 isolation?

COVID-19 has heightened the risks for those most vulnerable to family violence especially women, children, disabled and rainbow people and those from our ethnic-minority communities. Isolation does not mean that you should tolerate violence. Please reach out to Women's Refuge (for women and children) on 0800 733 843, Shine (for men and women) on 0508-744-633 and dial 111 for Police.

It isn’t safe for me to reach out for help because my abuser lives with me. What can I do?

If your bubble isn’t safe, please seek help immediately. Women’s Refuge offers a discrete shielded support site that can be accessed at the bottom of websites like The Warehouse, Countdown and Trade Me which contains information about how to get help, get out of a situation or make a plan to leave. The website will not appear in your browser history. Look for an icon at the bottom of these websites that looks like this:

What should I do if I feel stressed, anxious and fear that I might lose control and take it out on my family?

Losing a job, a business, hours of work, sleep and connections with friends can greatly heighten stress and anxiety. However they do not justify abusive or violent behavior. If you are feeling stressed out and feel you might lose control and harm someone at home, the best thing you can do is talk to somebody. Don't hesitate, don't be whakama. Seek help now by calling the 0800HeyBro helpline on 0800 439 276, Gandhi Nivas on 0800 426 344 or the family violence information line on 0800 456 450 to find out about local services.

What should I do if I think someone is being abused within their homes?

If you are worried about someone in your street, whānau or community who might be vulnerable, please do not ignore what you hear, see and feel. Keep the lines of communication open and encourage them to seek help sooner rather than later. You can also dial 111 for Police.

Are there any other organisations that I could reach out for help? 

  • 211 Helpline (0800 211 211) – for help finding, and direct transfer to, community-based health and social support services in your area.
  • Victim Support – call 0800 842 846. 24-hour service for all victims of serious crime.
  • Victim Information Line/Victim Centre – call 0800 650 654 or email victimscentre@justice.govt.nz
  • Family violence information line – call 0800 456 450 to find out about local services or how to help someone near you.
  • Elder Abuse Helpline – call 0800 32 668 65 (0800 EA NOT OK) - a 24-hour service answered by registered nurses who can connect to local elder abuse specialist providers.
  • Tu Wahine Trust – call 09 838 8700 for kaupapa Māori counselling, therapy and support for survivors of sexual harm (mahi tukino) and violence within whānau.
  • Shakti New Zealand – call 0800 742 584 for culturally competent support services for women, children and families of Asian, African and Middle Eastern origin who have experienced domestic violence.
  • Safe to Talk – sexual harm helpline. Call 0800 044 334, text 4334 or email support@safetotalk.nz
  • Rape Crisis Centres – call 0800 88 3300 for contact details of your local centre. Provides support for survivors of sexual abuse, their families, friends and whānau.
  • Male Survivors Aotearoa New Zealand – call 0800 044 344. Offers one-to-one, peer and support groups for male survivors of sexual abuse and their significant others.
  • ACC Sensitive Claims Unit – call 0800 735 566 for access to services related to sexual abuse or sexual assault.
  • Hey Bro helpline – call 0800 HeyBro (0800 439 276). 24/7 help for men who feel they're going to harm a loved one or whānau member.
  • Korowai Tumanoko – text or call 022 474 7044 for a kaupapa Māori service for those with concerning or harmful sexual behaviour.
  • Stop – support for concerning or harmful sexual behaviour. Need to Talk? 1737 – free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.
  • Youthline – call 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz
  • Kidsline – call 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age (24-hour service).
  • Skylight– call 0800 299 100 helping children, young people and their families and whānau through tough times of change, loss, trauma and grief.
  • Oranga Tamariki – call 0508 325 459 (0508 FAMILY) or email contact@ot.govt.nz for concerns about children and young people.

Older people

What are my rights to healthcare? I’m worried that I’ll be denied treatment because I’m older and have underlying health conditions.

Everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health according to international human rights law. The government is obliged to make every possible effort, within available resources, to achieve the right to health for everyone, in a non-discriminatory way.

You have the right not to be discriminated against for any reason set out under the Human Rights Act 1993, including age and disability.

There has been a lot of information in the news about health systems overseas having to use emergency triage because their resources are overloaded. For example, some countries have discussed the lack of ventilators, and whether older patients with less likelihood of recovery should be de-prioritised when allocating emergency resources and medical attention.

The rights of older people to health and life should be protected during this time, especially for vulnerable groups who already suffer poorer health outcomes. The government is confident in the New Zealand health system’s ability to cope with the number of cases and the resources required, so that everyone can receive equal care to recover from COVID-19 or other medical issues. Your doctor, and other healthcare providers, will be able to discuss this more with you if you are worried.

I live in a retirement village. Can my family or friends visit me now that lockdown is over?

In Level 3, you can expand your bubble to reconnect with close family/whānau, bring in caregivers, or support isolated people. This includes if you live in a retirement village. Your bubble should be kept small and exclusive. Remember to take precautions like staying away from people who are unwell.

If you live in a residential aged care facility, non-essential services and family visits are still stopped during Level 3 (except for family visits for end of life/palliative care, on a case by case basis). This is because aged care facilities are particularly susceptible to the rapid transmission of viruses, as we have seen with the COVID-19 outbreak in the Rosewood Rest Home in Christchurch.

My bubble feels unsafe and I think I might be suffering elder abuse. Can I leave?

COVID-19 has heightened the risks for those most vulnerable to violence, including elder abuse. Elder abuse can include psychological abuse like bullying or threats, financial abuse, physical or sexual abuse, and neglect. Isolation is not an excuse for any kind of violence.

If you are not being treated with dignity and respect, you can contact Age Concern for free and confidential support and advice about elder abuse and neglect. Age Concern provides free and confidential Elder Abuse Response Services in most cities and provincial areas throughout New Zealand. These services respond to any situations where an older person / kaumātua’s safety or wellbeing is at risk. You can ring a 24-hour helpline on 0800 326 6865 to be directed to the nearest Elder Abuse Response Service.

If the situation in your bubble is unsafe or life-threatening you can leave your bubble immediately and seek help from a neighbour or friend. Please reach out to Women's Refuge (for women and children) on 0800 733 843, Shine (for men and women) on 0508-744-633 and dial 111 for Police.

Can my employer tell me not to come to work because I’m over 70?

For people aged 70 and over, and others with existing medical conditions, there are additional risks should you be exposed to COVID-19.

At Alert Level 3, you can choose to return to work if you can’t work from home. If you go to work, you will need to ensure your workplace has arrangements in place to keep you safe.

Options for managing your health and safety might include working at times where there are fewer other workers around, increased physical distancing where possible, additional protective measures or equipment, or undertaking duties with lower levels of customer interaction. If you can’t safely work at your workplace, and can’t work from home, you need to agree with your employer what your leave from work and pay arrangements will be.

While there are some exceptions, under the Human Rights Act 1993 it is unlawful to discriminate against an employee because of their age. If you feel you have been discriminated against you can make a complaint to us.



Do I hold onto my rights in an emergency?

During an emergency, the government has a responsibility to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of disabled people.   As a disabled person you have the right to be free from discrimination. This might require government or businesses to make different arrangements to make sure you are not worse off during the pandemic or face barriers in accessing the right information or support you are entitled to. For example, supermarkets have developed a way for you to indicate you need to be given priority access to online grocery orders and deliveries. You can find other services and support available here at the Ministry of Social Development. You are entitled to ask for reasonable accommodation so that these services are e provided in ways that are accessible for you. You can find a lot of useful information on the Covid-19 section of the Disabled Persons Assembly website. If you receive disability support, you have the right to feel safe and know what guidance workers ae being given about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

What are my rights to healthcare? I’m worried that I’ll be denied treatment because I’m older and have underlying health conditions.

Everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health according to international human rights law. The government is obliged to make every possible effort, within available resources, to achieve the right to health for everyone, in a non-discriminatory way. You have the right not to be discriminated against for any reason set out under the Human Rights Act 1993, including age and disability. If you feel you have been discriminated against you can complain to the human rights commission. You can call 0800 496 877 or email covid19@hrc.co.nz or complete an online form here.

Do I have the right to get information in accessible formats?  (Participation Article 4.3 CRPD)

Yes. Everyone has the right to reliable information about the pandemic, about how to keep safe, and about how to access services and supports that are available to assist people.  You have the right to have information in accessible formats that work for you. Article 9 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Government has created an accessible information hub. You can find accessible information in various formats here. And you can find some key information in accessible formats here including in Easy Read here. If you cannot find the information you need in an accessible format you can contact pim@ncmc.govt.nz

Do I still have the right to have a say in decisions that affect me, for example about who can visit me?  

Everyone has a right to be involved in decisions about things that affect them. This is still the case during an emergency. In fact, that is the best way to develop solutions that are culturally appropriate for you and take account of people in many different situations. If you receive a disability support service, you should be involved in the decisions about how you continue to receive support and how that will be done safely. services safely. You can see that this right is included in the  guidance that the Ministry of Health has given to disability services (for Alert Level 3). Do I have the right to Tāngata Whaikaha (Māori disabled people) have the right to be linked to both Māori and disability response teams in order to gain benefit from and also contribute to solutions that are self-determined culturally and disability sensitive and draw on traditional knowledge.

The Code of Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights still applies during an emergency, so you have the right to respect and to information to make an informed choice.

If this is not happening, you can complain to contact the Health and Disability Commission here.

Can I seek reasonable accommodation from my employer, for example, to continue to work from home?  

Disabled employees should enjoy all of the protections provided to any employee Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment. But you also have the right to reasonable accommodation which means that as a disabled employee you can seek changes to work arrangements that would make work safe and accessible for you. For example, if your impairment or other health condition makes it less safe for you to return to work premises when other employees are permitted to do so you could seek an accommodation to continue working from home.

I am a disabled student do I have to return to school if I think it would compromise my health or that of someone in my family?

Disabled people have the right to access education on an equal basis with others. The evolving environment can create both challenges and opportunities for learning in both schools and distance learning. Students have the right to the reasonable supports they need to thrive academically and that includes accessible learning resources including if you believe your health would best be protected by continuing your learning at home when schools reopen. The Ministry of Education has information for students and whānau.

I have an assistance dog, can a business or rental property owner discriminate against me because of my dog?  

You should not be refused entry to service nor should a landlord discriminate against you on the basis of having an assistance dog, as defined by the Dog Control Act.

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