Winston Peters, 74, won't have to self-isolate just yet - Jacinda Ardern

Despite his advanced age, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters will not be asked to stay at home to avoid catching COVID-19.

The disease has killed at least 11,300 people in the last couple of months, with older age groups at risk. 

A recent study found people 59 or older are at least five times more likely to die than younger age groups, and the older you are, the higher the risk. Eighty-seven percent of the dead in Italy, the country hardest-hit by the pandemic, were aged over 70. Peters is 74.

On Saturday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called on New Zealanders to avoid all unnecessary travel, and for people over 70 years of age, immunocompromised and those with underlying medical conditions to stay at home.

But Peters won't be staying put.

"The Deputy Prime Minister we consider part of our essential team and a core part of our Government, so the Deputy Prime Minister will be continuing on in his role, business as usual, whilst applying the same kind of measures we are asking all Parliamentarians to maintain at this time," Ardern told media on Saturday afternoon.

"He is part of our essential team. He will be continuing on in his work." 

Peters is also Foreign Minister, but will be staying on New Zealand shores for the foreseeable future. 

"The Government will not be travelling overseas," Ardern said.

Ardern, 39, is at low-risk of being killed by the disease. But that doesn't mean she wouldn't necessarily become very sick, if she were to catch it.

"Today, I have a message for young people: you are not invincible," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Saturday morning (NZ time). "This virus could put you in hospital for weeks, or even kill you."

Winston Peters.
Winston Peters. Photo credit: Getty

Ardern said she hasn't been tested for the virus.

"I follow the same guidance that I ask the rest of New Zealand to follow. I am trying to keep my physical distance from others, I'm frequently hand-washing, I am reducing down my travel... and I've made the move to base myself here, out of Wellington." 

To reduce the risk, Ardern says Cabinet - made up of 20 MPs from Labour and New Zealand First - won't be meeting as a group for a while. 

"My intention is that the business committee - where we have representation from across parties - will come together and formulate a plan for Parliament that fits with the alert levels that we have set. We are obviously in a recess - that gives time for that plan to work through. 

"I do expect it to be cross-party and for there to be consensus. I have been working on a contingency that means Cabinet can meet at least altogether virtually, even if we don't have everyone in the same room."

There are already security measures in place to avoid hacking, she said, but further assurances will be sought to ensure they're up to standard.

There have been 52 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand to date, and another four probables. Three people remain in hospital, and two of the cases are yet to be linked to overseas travel. 

The Government on Saturday introduced a new alert system that can have different levels for the country and different regions. At this stage, the entire country is at level two of four.