Pharmacies across Northland are taking unprecedented measures to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus while making sure people can still get the medicines they need.

As essential services, pharmacies — along with medical centres and supermarkets — are required to keep operating during the lockdown which started at 11.59pm last night.

In most cases, however, people will be required to phone or email with their requests instead of calling in to the shop.

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Unichem Kerikeri Pharmacy has not been allowing the public inside since Tuesday and requires anyone who needs to pick up a prescription to phone or email first.

Customers will be phoned when their orders are ready, with collection times staggered to limit the number of people waiting at any one time.

For now customers are being greeted outside the pharmacy by staff wearing face masks and gloves, though even that may stop if the virus is confirmed in Kerikeri.

Unichem Kerikeri Pharmacy owner Vicki Douglas said staff had been inundated with people trying to get their prescriptions before the lockdown. As a result wait times had gone from the usual 10-20 minutes to 48-72 hours.

''I've got eight staff working flat out to get scripts through, they just can't keep up.''

She urged people not to phone asking when their prescriptions would be ready but to wait until they were called.

''We will prioritise people who need medicines quickly for acute conditions. We'll make sure we get those done in a very quick timeframe.''

She urged anyone trying to phone to exercise patience. With so many people trying to call at once some had been unable to get through.

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They only people allowed into the store were those needing flu vaccinations and finger-prick tests. They were being ushered in through a separate entrance.

Retail items would be available by emailing retail@unichemkerikeri.co.nz.

The pharmacy at Kerikeri Medical Centre had already closed, with those prescriptions now being handled by Kerikeri Pharmacy.

By Monday it was hoped all four pharmacies in the Kerikeri-Waipapa area would be combined on the central Kerikeri site because it was the most secure, Douglas said.

A volunteer would deliver medication to those who were unable to leave their homes with a charge to cover her petrol costs. A new group, Kerikeri Volunteering, is also hoping to recruit drivers to deliver medicines, as long as health authorities agree.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website