Relief for COVID-19 self-isolators: Here's how much Kiwis will get paid to stay home amid coronavirus pandemic

Relief has come for Kiwis in COVID-19 self-isolation and for those who fall ill with the coronavirus, with the Government delivering a massive financial support package. 

The COVID-19 leave payment scheme will provide support for workers through their employers - and the self-employed - who are in self-isolation and unable to work, are sick with COVID-19, or caring for others who have the virus. 

It's part of the Government's $12.1 billion Business Continuity Package announced by Finance Minister Grant Robertson to support businesses affected by the virus pandemic. 

Full-time working Kiwis who are eligible will get $585.80 per week while part-time workers will get $350 per week. It doesn't affect any paid leave entitlements and is available even for employees on paid leave for part of the period. 

Full-time workers are considered those who work more than 20 hours a week. Employers will be able to apply for the leave compensation on behalf of any employee who is self-isolating or sick.

The payment is made by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to employers, who will then be required to pass it on to the affected employee. MSD will pay on a fortnightly basis once it receives an application. 

The subsidy is not available for New Zealanders who are able to work from home during the period of self-isolation and who can be paid normally by their employer. The scheme is also only available for eight weeks per person. 

The estimated total cost of the scheme is $126.5 million - and that's based on a scenario estimating an uptake by 27,000 workers every two weeks for the next eight weeks.

It's a difficult one for the Government to predict, because it depends on how many people will need to self-isolate or will be sick with COVID-19, and how many in self-isolation will be able to work normally from home. 

If the numbers of people taking up the scheme were only to average 10,000 over the eight week period, the cost could fall to $46.8 million. The numbers could also be higher - but this has not been predicted at this point. 

What's the catch?

The subsidy scheme was announced on 17 March, so workers taking sick leave before 17 March can only access MSD's funds for time spent on sick leave from 17 March - not before then. 

Here's how it will work

John Smith is a full-time plumber working for a local company. He arrives home in New Zealand from a three-week holiday in Australia, and despite not feeling unwell, he must self-isolate for 14 days by law. 

Smith has already used his sick days earlier this year and his employer is not able to cover his wage for two weeks while he's off work. So, his employer applies to MSD to support Smith, and receives $1171 to pass on to him while he's in self-isolation.

"The global economic impact of COVID-19 on New Zealand's economy is going to be significant, so we are acting now to soften that impact," the Finance Minister said.

"Our first priority is the health and wellbeing of our people."