Covid-19 and heart disease

Find out what the Covid-19 coronavirus means for people with heart conditions. We explain the Alert Level 1 restrictions, give tips on lowering your risk of infection, and tell you where to get support.

In this article

Covid-19 is a new virus that can affect your lungs, airways and sometimes your heart. It is one of a large group of different viruses called coronaviruses.

There is currently no vaccine to stop you getting Covid-19, but there are simple steps that you, your family and whānau can take to reduce your risk of getting it.

I have heart disease, am I more at risk from Covid-19?

Having a heart condition doesn't make you more likely to catch Covid-19.

However, research from overseas shows that people with heart disease or a serious heart condition are more likely to become severely ill from Covid-19 and have a higher risk of death.

Other medical conditions that put you more at risk include:

  • chronic lung disease such as cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive respiratory disease emphysema, severe asthma
  • high blood pressure that isn't well controlled
  • diabetes that isn’t well controlled
  • chronic kidney disease
  • liver disease
  • conditions and treatments that weaken your immune system, such as some cancers, immune deficiencies.

You may also be at more risk if you:

  • are over 70
  • live in an aged care facility
  • smoke
  • are Māori, Pacific or of another ethnic minority, particularly where there are also chronic health conditions, crowded housing and difficulty accessing healthcare.
  • are severely obese (have a BMI of 40 or over).
  • are undergoing dialysis.
  • are in the third stage of pregnancy.

You can read more about at risk groups of the Ministry of Health website.

What does Alert Level 1 mean?

New Zealand moved to alert Level 1 at 11.59pm on 8 June 2020.

Alert Level 1 means that Covid-19 is controlled within New Zealand, but remains uncontrolled overseas. It’s also possible that isolated household transmission could be occurring in New Zealand.

Alert Level 1 means you can move freely around the country. There are no restrictions on gatherings. Schools and workplaces are open and there are no restrictions on domestic transport.

Border restrictions are still in place to reduce the risk of bringing Covid-19 into New Zealand.

Intensive testing for Covid-19 and rapid contract training measures are still in place. Self-isolation and quarantine required when positive cases are identified and when you’re waiting for the result of a test.

Important safety measures remain in place at Alert Levels. These are the Government's "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.

Tips for those in high-risk groups

There are no restrictions at Alert Level 1, but it still important to take extra care if you're in a high-risk group. Maintain physical distance from others and keep up good hygiene practices.

Things you can do to stay safe:

  • Keep a two metre distance from people you don't know in public places and take extra care with hygiene practices.
  • Avoid touching surfaces and wash your hands before and after you leave home.
  • Wipe keys, handrails and regularly touched surfaces.
  • Avoid passing around your mobile phone to other people.
  • Keep a record of where you’ve been and who you’ve seen. The Ministry of Health has a NZ COVID Tracer app, if you’d like to keep a digital diary.

Talk to your GP if you're unsure about your level of risk and what extra safety measures you need to take.

You should continue to go to appointments for your medical condition. Health services such as your GP and hospitals have measures in place to keep both you and staff safe.

You can read the government's advice for higher risk people on the Ministry of Health website.

Shopping

At Alert Level 1, it's ok for you to go to shops. Otherwise continue to use online shopping if that's preferable for you.

Should I go to work?

It is now ok for you to return to work. Some people may still choose to work from home if they prefer and their employer agrees. 

If you are working and considered at risk of severe illness from Covid-19, talk with your employer about doing a risk assessment in your workplace to look at what the risk is for you and how it can be reduced. 

Going outside

Can I go outside for exercise?

Yes. 

When you're out, it's still a good idea to: 

  • Stay two metres away from anyone else.
  • Avoid touching things that others may have touched like park benches and hand railings.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly when you return home.

What about fitness centres, sports and other recreational activities?

At Level 1, fitness centres and other recreational activities will operate as normal. Make sure you maintain good hygiene practices and physical distancing.

Can I go to restaurants, cafes or social gatherings?

Yes. There are no restrictions on gatherings. However it’s important to practice social distancing and good hygiene (avoid touching surfaces, hand washing, cough etiquette, wiping frequently touched surfaces). 

It’s also important you keep a record of where you’ve been and who you’ve seen.

Do I need a mask/gloves when I go out? 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will only be necessary in the same workplaces as it was before Covid-19, like hospitals. Most people will not need PPE. 

However if your healthcare professional has recommended you wear a mask because of your condition, you should follow their instructions.

You can read more about the advice on face masks on the Ministry of Health website.

What about transport in my local area?

Public transport will operate as normal. Make sure you follow good hygiene practices and avoid using public transport if you're sick.

Can I travel within New Zealand?

You can now travel freely within New Zealand.

Taking heart medication

It's important to keep taking your heart medication as prescribed.

This includes ACE inhibitors (angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors and ARBs (angiotensin receptor blockers). At the moment, there is no evidence to suggest these medications make Covid-19 worse. 

If you stop taking your medication, your heart condition could get worse and you may be at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Heart Foundation Medical Director Gerry Devlin strongly advises people living with heart conditions to continue taking all their medications unless otherwise advised by their doctor.

"There has been some speculation concerning the safety of angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE-i) and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) in relation to Coronavirus (Covid-19) infection. There is no clinical evidence or scientific basis to support the speculation.

"ACE-i and ARBs are common medications used to treat high blood pressure, heart failure and people who have suffered a heart attack.

"Stopping your medication for high blood pressure and heart conditions could be dangerous and it's important people continue taking medications as prescribed by your doctor," says Gerry.

Medical appointments

Under Alert Level 1, medical appointments will be running as normal. It’s important you go to all medical appointments as usual. 

Some precautions will be in place to protect people who are vulnerable to severe Covid-19 from exposure to the virus. 

This will include:

  • strict adherence to infection prevention and control protocols 
  • screening on entrance to medical facilities, where staff may ask you if you have been overseas recently, had contact with anyone who has been overseas recently, or had any potential recent exposure to COVID-19 such as being a close contact of a confirmed or probable case. 

For medical emergencies, call 111 immediately. 

Getting a flu shot

If you haven't already got a flu vaccination, it's a good idea to get one as soon as possible.

A flu shot won't stop you getting coronavirus, but it will help you stay as healthy as possible and reduce the burden on hospitals.

Who can I call with questions about my heart condition and Covid-19?

The Heart Foundation has a nurse-run free phone line for advice about heart conditions and can give information on Covid-19 and the heart.

The Heart Helpline is available on 0800 863 375 Monday to Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm.

If you have questions on weekends or public holidays, you can email hearthealthinfo@heartfoundation.org.nz. We will respond to you the next business day.

What if I have Covid-19 symptoms?

The main symptoms of Covid-19 are:

  • a cough
  • a high temperature (at least 38°C)
  • difficulty breathing
  • sore throat
  • sneezing and runny nose
  • temporary loss of smell.

Even though Covid-19 is currently contained within New Zealand, you must call Healthline free on 0800 358 5453 or your doctor as soon as possible, if you have Covid-19 symptoms.

They will tell you if you need to be tested and give you any other medical advice you need to follow. Difficulty breathing can be a possible sign of pneumonia and requires medical attention.

If it is a medical emergency call 111 immediately.

Try to self-isolate from other members of your household as much as possible. You can find more information on self-isolating at the Government's Covid-19 website.

Contact our heart help nurses