Coronavirus: Ministry of Health urging anyone who is slightly sick to stay home

The Ministry of Health is raising the bar for turning up to work ill and is now advising anyone who has a runny nose to stay home.

The ministry's Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says having the sniffles around other people might be okay at any other time, but not right now as the country tries to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

"All of us are probably guilty at times. If we've got a bit of a runny nose or a bit of a sore throat we might go to work because it's not too bad," he says.

"This is the time when we've got to be much much more strict."

Those also in the know agree, including microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles who worked from home on Wednesday after she woke up with just a runny nose.

"The more we touch surfaces that other people have been touching, the more at risk we are," she says

"And modern offices are full of open plan hotdesking and so it's something all businesses should be thinking about."

Some New Zealand businesses are rehearsing their plan if there was a pandemic by telling workers to stay home for three days this week.

"All InternetNZ staff in Wellington and Auckland were asked to stay home on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

"We've sent everyone home to work for three days from the kind of place they'd be if there was a full pandemic situation," CEO Jordan Carter says.

Vodafone is doing the same thing.

"We're locking down our entire Auckland office - five floors, about 1000 people - to practice our response to coronavirus," Vodafone's head of HR Katie Wiliams says.

Their pandemic tests were praised by Bloomfield, who commended public and private sector organisations who are rehearsing their COVID-19 plans.

Phones at the Employers and Manufacturers Association have been ringing off the hook with employers asking what to do.

"Both parties need to deal with each other in good faith and work out a plan together. Especially if an employer has a union, start talking to the union," EMA's head of legal Matthew Dearing says.

Research shows only about half of Kiwis can work from home.

Those in essential and emergency services, hospitality, retail, the primary industries and more would only be paid if taking sick leave, annual leave, or if their employer allows them to take paid special leave.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment says it's advising employers to consider any requests for special paid leave in good faith.

But for businesses where people can work from home, it's time for a pandemic plan.