The skyline of Auckland seen from the village Devonport, New Zealand

Auckland’s level three extension – Expert Reaction

Auckland will stay in Alert Level 3 for another 12 days.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern provided the update this evening and said the rest of the country will remain at level 2 for the same period: until 11:59 on Wednesday 26 August.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the announcement.

Professor Michael Plank, Te Pūnaha Matatini and University of Canterbury, comments:

“The Prime Minister has announced that the current alert level settings will be extended for a further 12 days, with Auckland at level 3 and everywhere else at level 2. The good news is that the community cases found so far are all likely linked to the same cluster and there is no evidence yet of multiple clusters. But it’s almost certain there are more cases still to be found, so the government really had no option other than to extend the restrictions.

“The incubation period of the virus can be up to 12 days, so people who were infected before the restrictions came into effect may not develop symptoms until towards the end of this two week period. That means we need this extra time to have confidence that we have found all the cases that are out there.

“Although most of the cases so far are in Auckland, there is still a possibility the outbreak has spread to other parts of the country. Anyone who has travelled from Auckland in the last two weeks should self-isolate as much as possible. And everyone should follow the recommendations about distancing, mask use and contact tracing.”

Lesley Gray, Senior Lecturer, Department of Primary Health Care & General Practice, University of Otago, comments:

“While not mandated, we should be socialising ourselves to mask-wearing (especially those in Auckland when having to do essential shopping etc) – this virus is going to be around the globe for some time to come. We have numerous ‘tools’ to reduce risk of transmission – masks are one of those. Make your own, get a supply, make sure you have one available – learn how to wear them effectively and find one that is comfortable for you.

“I think this was a fair, reasoned decision and feedback on social media seem to reflect this, we are relying on the ‘A’ (Auckland team) to do this right for Auckland, and the rest of the team not to get complacent and to adopt the non-pharmacy interventions including mask-wearing where appropriate.”

Dr Sarb Johal, clinical psychologist, comments:

“The announcement this afternoon that Auckland’s Alert Level will continue at 3, and the rest of New Zealand at Level 2 offers welcome certainty and stability for the short-term, which will help to alleviate some anxiety that people were feeling in the run up to the press conference in this whirlwind week. A lot has changed fast. Add to the extension of the wage subsidy, this helps to address some of the economic impact for the business community, and those who are employed by it.

“There is a clear signal that case numbers are likely to continue to rise, and that the index case is still not confirmed. However, the public health work to contain the cluster outbreak does not need this information to be effective. However, people will want to find the source of the outbreak if they possibly can, and that will also add to a sense of agency and control over the outbreak for the community.

“It’s clear that people are coming forwards early to be tested if symptomatic, and parents are being responsible and keeping their children from school if ill. This is welcome, necessary and very helpful.

“There are still impacts that will ripple through New Zealand – public events being cancelled, people visiting cafes and restaurants and retail outlets less frequently, and it’s likely that inter-regional travel will also continue to tail off for a while (where it is permitted).

“However, there is an air of resigned determination, that we need to tackle the situation that we find ourselves in, and that there is a confidence that we know what we need to do to achieve the stated outcome: a return to Level 1 throughout New Zealand as soon as possible.”