Arthritis New Zealand has heard from people worried about being required to work in essential services during the COVID -19 lockdown. People were concerned that their medication for arthritis compromised their immune systems and made them more vulnerable to the virus. They wanted to know if there was any financial provision for them to stay home.

Early this month we sought clarification from the Ministry of Health and pointed out that people taking medications for some forms of arthritis were not included on the list of those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

The Ministry responded quickly acknowledging that people who are immuno-suppressed and have underlying conditions are at greater risk noting that the degree of risk varies across a range of factors. We were also told that if anyone is concerned about their health and their level of risk at work they need to seek an assessment with their GP and/or specialist who will assess the situation and provide documentation for employers if they need to isolate and their employment is affected.

The following day the Prime Minister announced the Essential Workers COVID-19 Leave Payment Scheme to support essential workers who need to stay at home to comply with public health guidance. Details of the scheme are now available on the Ministry of Social Development website.

The Ministry of Health has updated its advice regarding those most at risk for COVID -19. This now includes those with prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications (such as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs). The Government has acknowledged that some people with arthritis need extra protection. 

We encourage employees concerned about their additional risk to consider asking their employers to apply for the wage subsidy. It could help you to stay home if you need to. The subsidy form is available here.

We are interested in your stories. Please let us know how you go if you try to use this scheme. We are here to make a difference for you.

Tell us about your experience, contact francesca.holloway@arthritis.org.nz

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