COVID19 Questions and Answers
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(Updated 13 May 2020)
From midnight on Wednesday 13 May, we will move to alert level 2.
The lockdown has been tough for many people affected by cancer. We have heard many stories of hardship and loss during the last few weeks. We acknowledge the hardship that many of you have faced, the sacrifices made, and the pain that has been felt.
We are thankful that New Zealanders have observed the lockdown. This has meant that people with cancer have mostly been spared the risks of COVID infection.
We are committed to supporting people with cancer on their journey.
Cancer Society services
Cancer Society volunteer driving support under level 2 is expected to increase, subject to ensuring passengers and driver’s safety. Other Cancer Society services will also expand and move to begin getting back to business-as-usual. Strict health and safety guidelines will be used and people with cancer will continue to be supported in their communities.
Receiving cancer treatments
Most cancer treatments will continue as normal, and there will be a big focus on cancer diagnosis in the coming weeks.
- Many, but not all, appointments will be face-to-face. There will be more use of video and telephone consultations than there was pre-COVID.
- Hospitals will have strict hygiene policies and requirements for physical distancing. Hospitals may have different rules depending on their circumstances, so things might vary around the country. Check with your hospital about rules regarding visitor policies and having support people present during your treatment.
- If you are offered an appointment for a test or a scan for your cancer – please attend as normal. You are more at risk of harm if you don’t go than if you do.
Your cancer team will let you know if your appointment will be over the phone, via a video or computer, or in person. If in doubt, call the department booking coordinator.
Remember to protect yourself
Your health is important and through all the levels of COVID alert we need to:
- maintain good hand hygiene
- report any symptoms of fever or respiratory illness to your doctor promptly
- maintain physical distancing to minimise risk of infection.
While the risk of getting COVID-19 is currently very low, that could change so it’s important to practice good habits.
Whether or not you have cancer, if you are unwell, you should contact your doctor. If you don’t have a lead cancer clinician, your first point of contact is usually your GP.
If you have questions or concerns, you can call 0800 226 237 CANCER helpline or Health line 0800 611 116 for advice.
Update: 28 April 2020
You may have seen some media today where our medical director, Dr Chris Jackson, talked about delays in cancer screening and treatment. We want to reassure you that the Ministry of Health and Cancer Control Agency is working hard to resolve any delays in treatments or screening.
If you are concerned about any cancer symptoms or receiving cancer treatment, please talk to your GP or treatment team as soon as you can. Healthcare is essential no matter the level of lockdown.
Listen to Dr Chris Jackson on Facebook Live to hear more about what alert level 3 may mean for you.
It will be on Facebook Live at 3pm here.
Will the level 4 alert mean my treatment will stop?
No. People who need treatment will get treatment. However, some treatments can reduce your immunity and it might mean that, for a small number of people, the risks of treatment are greater than the benefits. Your treatment team will let you know if your treatment needs to change.
Any changes at this time will be to reduce the chances of harm in the near future with COVID-19.
Many appointments will change from a face-to-face meeting to either a telephone consult or a video conference (Skype, Zoom, Facetime). This is to help increase physical distancing and reduce the possible spread of COVID-19.
I'm in the hospital and can't have any visitors - what can be done about this?
We know that this is happening to protect people, like cancer patients, who are more vulnerable to Covid-19. The lack of a support person is a definite downside and we hope the restrictions work so they are temporary.
This is a very concerning time for people undergoing cancer treatments and their whānau. The Cancer Society wants to reassure New Zealanders that we are available to support you as we work hard to keep cancer patients informed and supported in communities right around New Zealand.
I have had treatment for cancer in the past, will I be immune-compromised now?
People who have had treatment for cancer in the last three months are likely to have slightly more suppressed immune systems than people who have not had treatment for cancer recently.
There are some types of cancer treatment, such as bone marrow transplant or particular types of chemo that are harder on the immune system than others. Some cancer treatments have a very limited impact on the immune system. If you are uncertain about your circumstances, please discuss with your cancer specialist
I have had lung cancer surgery a year ago and still have cancer. I work with high-risk people. Do I have an increased risk with COVID19?
All New Zealanders are now required to self-isolate in their homes to avoid any risk for yourself or others close to you. After the current level 4 restrictions end, people who still have active cancer in their body are at higher risk of infections than people who don’t have cancer. You should continue to practice good hand-hygiene (hand-washing), physical distancing, regular exercise, keep a healthy weight and eat healthily.
I’ve had treatment for cancer and been hospitalized for chest infections. Am I at high risk?
Yes, you will be at higher risk than many other people. Even though the risk of COVID is low at present, all New Zealanders are required to self-isolate to stop the spread of COVID and to protect our most vulnerable people from infection. Health services are still available to assist you when needed.
‘I have tested positive with initial bowel screening and was due for a colonoscopy March 30th. This has been postponed until after lockdown is over. If I have cancer, will this delay be serious for me? I am very concerned’.
We completely understand that waiting for a colonoscopy after you have had a positive screening result is stressful. We are sorry that your colonoscopy has been delayed. We are talking to the Ministry of Health and Cancer Control Agency to try and resolve this for everyone in this situation.
If you have bowel symptoms you should talk to your GP ASAP and ask them to speak to the gastroenterology department at your local hospital. This may result in your colonoscopy being done sooner.
According to the Ministry of Health's advice, 92 out of 100 people with a positive test will not have cancer. The Ministry has advised us that your DHB colonoscopy team would be expected to contact you shortly after the lockdown, within 4 weeks.
Again, if you currently have bowel symptoms you should talk urgently to your GP as some tests may still be able to be done during the lockdown.
I had a hysterectomy a year ago and now have a sharp pain in my stomach. Can I still contact my treatment team?
You should phone your GP and ask them about your next steps.
Should I get an influenza vaccine?
Yes. With some exceptions, most people with cancer are eligible for the influenza vaccine. Ring your GP to see what the current arrangements are.
What are the signs and symptoms of COVID-19?
These are: fever, coughing and difficulty breathing
If you have cancer and develop a fever (temperature over 38°C) call your cancer treatment team immediately for advice.
How will I know if I have the virus and not some other infection when I am having chemotherapy. Should I keep taking my temperature?
If you feel unwell you should take your temperature. You do not need to do this if you don’t feel unwell.
What are the risks for a person who has had Myleoid Syndrome/Blood Cancer, has diabetes and a terminal diagnosis?
People who have cancer or who have had cancer treatment in the last three months are more at risk of COVID-19 than other people, but the risk is still very low. You need to practice good hand washing and physical distancing to minimise the chance of infection from others.
Do DHBs have separate appointment areas for the general public and oncology appointments?
Is being on Keytruda boosting my immune system against the virus?
That’s not completely clear at present although it seems that it is less immune-suppressing than some other treatments. You should still follow the government's advice to stay home, practice good hand hygiene, and encourage physical distancing.
Should I have the pneumonia vaccine I am over 65, breast cancer which has advanced to lung and liver?
If there is a chance for extra protection from a vaccine you should get it. Talk to your cancer treatment team or GP.
My son is not well, but we don’t know of a confirmed case that he’s been in contact with. What should we do?
If you think you have COVID-19 symptoms telephone Healthline on 0800 358 5453 or your doctor immediately.
Are radiation treatment appointments still happening?
Yes, your treatment team will contact you if there are any changes.
Are people going through radiation treatment at risk?
The risk of COVID-19 is currently very low. Although people with cancer and who are receiving treatment do have a higher risk, it is very low.
People should stay at home in accordance with government instruction, practice physical distancing, and report any symptoms to your health care provider.
Is Herceptin reducing my immune system?
No. However people who have had cancer surgery or cancer treatment like chemotherapy in the last three months may have slight immune suppression. The risk of COVID-19 is still very low.
Hormone therapy is not immune suppressing so this is not an additional risk, but everyone should practice good hand hygiene, be staying at home during the lockdown, and practicing physical distancing.
How long after cancer treatment does the immune system remain compromised?
It depends on your cancer treatment. It is best to talk to your treatment team. For most treatments, other than bone marrow transplants, the effects on the immune system wear off within three months.
Should I start chemotherapy?
Yes, you should keep going for your cancer treatment.
What can I do to boost my immunity against COVID-19?
Because COVID-19 is a new virus we don't have enough research to understand what will increase your immunity against it. Eat well, keep active, maintain social distance and safe hygiene through handwashing will help you.
I finished treatment last April but I am due to have a follow-up treatment next week. Should I still have this?
Yes, you should make sure you follow up and have your treatment. If you have any concerns please discuss them with your consultant.
What about B12 deficiency as a result of chemo?
Maintain a balanced diet and get all the essential vitamins and minerals you need through food. You can find advice on eating well here: https://wellington.cancernz.org.nz/cancer-information/treatment/eating-well-during-cancer-treatment/.
B12 deficiency can be fixed with injections and is not a major risk for COVID.
I am a NZ citizen wanting to return home and continue my cancer treatment.erceptin. Can I continue my treatment in New Zealand and how do I arrange this?
Unfortunately, we cannot offer specific clinical advice on personal situations. Your own oncologist can either call or email an oncologist at the hospital closest to where you will be living to determine how long it would take to get you to be seen at your NZ based hospital.
Please note that all people returning to NZ are required to self-isolate for two weeks and it is unlikely you would be able to start your cancer treatment until after that period. Please check this page for more information www.covid19.govt.nz.
Am I more at risk of coronavirus?
People with cancer are more vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus. Follow the advice about protecting yourself.
Should I wear a mask?
For most people in the community, face masks are not recommended. However, for people with symptoms of an acute respiratory infection, the World Health Organization recommends that there may be a benefit in wearing a face mask to reduce the spread of infection to other people.
Where can I get a face mask?
Talk to your treatment team about using a facemask. But most importantly, protect yourself by:
- washing your hands
- keep a safe social distance
- report any symptoms like coughs or fever (temperature over 38°C)
What arrangements will the DHBs make so I will be safe on leaving the hospital?
If you are unsafe to return home, your hospital is not likely to discharge you. However, if you have had treatment for cancer in the last three months your immune system may still be slightly reduced. You should practice good hand washing practices hygiene, observe the lockdown restrictions, and if you have any symptoms of fever or feeling unwell, talk with your treatment team.
Travel from treatment: what should patient and driver know?
It’s a good idea to carry documents:
- patient’s appointment card
- driver’s should have their licence and official letter if they have it.
- ask for a letter from your treatment team if you need it
- keep windows open in the car if you can
- wash your hands
- keep as much distance as you can.
If I am returning to a house where someone is isolating due to COVID-19 or other infection what should I know?
People who may have been exposed to COVID 19 e.g. those who have been overseas in the last 14 days should be self-isolating away from others. Once the 14 days have passed, if they have no symptoms, it is ok to be in contact with them PROVIDED they are in your bubble, as described at the COVID 19 website. If you have cancer and someone you know is thought to have COVID, you should keep away from them for at least 14 days, or until advised by a doctor.
If it’s past the 14 day isolation period, then consider self-isolating. Returning to a household that may have COVID-19 should be avoided. You should talk to your cancer treatment team. Here is the guide to self-isolating:
I'm feeling stressed, who can I talk to?
Most of New Zealand is staying home in our “bubbles” to stop the spread and save lives. With the lockdown, many people will find themselves feeling worried, frustrated, irritable and even angry. These are all normal reactions to a very abnormal situation that all New Zealanders are facing together.
If you feel you are not coping during this difficult time it's important to seek help and support.
- Read this helpful information from Le Va here
- Call our 0800 cancer information line on 0800 226 237
- Talk to your cancer treatment team
- For support with grief, anxiety, distress or mental wellbeing, you can also call or text 1737 Need to talk? This service is a free counselling service available 24/7
- These sites may be helpful to you:
I am a New Zealander with cancer but I am receiving treatment overseas. I feel isolated and alone with this.
See if you can use video links like Zoom, Skype and FaceTime on messenger to talk to friends. There is likely to be a Cancer Society in the country you are in and you could contact them.
You could use our online peer support service on www.cancerchat.org.nz.
Can I get my shopping online without a long wait?
Countdown has put vulnerable customers first for their online shopping service. This means people going through cancer treatment You will need to fill out an application form first:
- Register at http://shop.countdown.co.nz
- Fill in the form here: https://shop.countdown.co.nz/shop/content/priority-assistance…
- Ring 0800 477 655 if you need help
- Find a store
My father is being treated under palliative care and we go and visit him but we can’t do that now. Is there any way we can have contact with him?
Ask the facility what their policy is on contact during alert 4 conditions. Most facilities have a ‘compassionate access’ policy for people in your circumstances. if there are any other ways you can communicate with him. You may want to try Skype, email, Zoom or FaceTime on messenger.
What is the best way to support our loved ones going through treatment at this time?
- Make sure they keep going to treatment
- Help them to self-isolate by getting groceries, cleaning and hand washing to reduce exposure to COVID-10
- Help them to feel connected by phoning, face-timing or skyping if you can't be with them.
How can I manage a funeral during lockdown?
In this unprecedented national situation, not being able to have a funeral, tangi or farewell gathering for a loved one or friend is extremely distressing and painful.
It seems all wrong. However, until such time as restrictions are lifted and gatherings are possible again it's unfortunately part of the new normal in New Zealand. This lockdown time will eventually pass. But in the meantime, your Funeral Director can let you know about the options available for the care of your loved one right now. They can also discuss with you options for gatherings to honour the person’s life at a later date. This information here may be helpful for you to read.
If I can’t work from home do I qualify for assistance from the government and I have no leave?
Your employer is able to apply for a wage subsidy on your behalf. This is also available for contractors and self-employed to apply for here: https://www.workandincome.govt.nz/products/a-z-benefits/covid-19-support.html
We want you to know that the Cancer Society is here for you. Like many other services, from March 26 we have changed the way we operate for a short time. This is for your safety.
It means how we provide some of our services have changed:
- We are working with DHB's to keep transport to treatment options open. In some case this may mean using taxi vouchers of looking for other volunteer drivers to help provide transport. In some areas, our volunteer driving services have had to be suspended.
- Accommodation is being provided where social isolation can be maintained. Other options such as motels are being explored in other areas.
- Face-to-face services have had to cease for the short-term as we play our part in reducing community transmission of COVID-19. We will now be providing our support online and by phone.
We know this is a difficult time for everyone and COVID-19 is an added uncertainty when you are experiencing cancer. Your safety from COVID-19 is at the heart of our actions.
We want you to know that we are still here to support you. You do not need to feel alone – please reach out and contact us for advice and support, or if you are just feeling lonely.
- Call our 0800 cancer information line on 0800 226 232
- Contact our online support service www.CancerChatnz.org.nz
- Email or phone your local Cancer Society office.
- Talk to someone who has been there: we have peer supporters who can call you. Ring 0800 CANCER (226 237) for Cancer Connect and we’ll put you in touch with someone.
Information updated April 8, 2020