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Alert Level status quo stays a little longer – Expert Reaction

Aotearoa New Zealand will stay at its current Covid-19 Alert Level settings for at least another week to mitigate remaining risks of transmission, the Prime Minister announced today.

Aucklanders will remain at Alert Level 2.5 for at least another week, while the rest of Aotearoa New Zealand is on track to move to Alert Level 1 next Monday. However, the Government will confirm this move next Monday.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the public health and economic considerations of this announcement.

Dr Amanda Kvalsvig, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington, comments:

“It’s good to see the Prime Minister reinforcing the need for caution while there is still community transmission. There are at least two very good reasons to step down Alert Levels slowly. The first is that a low number of daily cases is not as reassuring as it might be. COVID-19 is extremely infectious, and a small number of cases can quickly escalate to a major outbreak. The second reason for caution is the time-lapse effect of new cases: a new case today indicates transmission that was happening up to two weeks ago, not transmission today. Likewise, it’ll be a couple of weeks before we can assess transmission happening right now.

“So it’s good to see the Government finally acknowledging the key role of masks in our pandemic response. Masks work to contain viral spread before people know they’re ill and possibly infectious – so masks don’t have the time-lapse effect, they work here and now. The public has been fantastic in adopting mask wearing so quickly. If mask wearing becomes our new norm in closed, crowded settings, we should be able to get on with our lives in the coming months while also protecting population health.”

No conflict of interest.

Associate Professor Arindam Basu, College of Education, Health & Human Development, University of Canterbury, comments:

“We continue to use the precautionary principle and data-driven evidence-based information in the management of this pandemic. Based on the identification of one case in Auckland, today’s announcement was more or less expected. The one week of extension of the status quo with review on Monday the 21st is based on detection of new cases and a modelled ‘significant’ possibility at this stage of ‘one’ case exiting Auckland and attending a ‘super spreader’ event, sparking new clusters. This is also consistent with the government’s policy to combine modelling exercises and data analysis in decision-making.

“While this still leaves the possibility that next Monday we may see extension of the current restrictions, given the pattern, if we were to strictly use masks in public spaces and public transport as physical distancing restrictions are relaxed, still maintain a safe distance, and if the current levels of testing were to continue or increase, we may see a sooner or easier transition to Level One.”

No conflict of interest.

Professor C. Michael Hall, Department of Management, Marketing and Entrepreneurship, University of Canterbury, comments:

“The government’s decision reflects its continuing cautious balancing act between opening the economy up further and reducing infection risk.

“Although contingent on the tracking of cases, the schedule outlines in terms of reducing levels does provide clarity for business and the tourism and hospitality sector in particular.

“The changes in physical distancing measures on planes and transport will be especially welcomed by carriers and destinations alike.

“These measures will be especially welcomed by the tourism and hospitality industry, as well as other sectors, with the school holiday period coming up, and should provide a substantial boost to many businesses and holiday destinations.”

No conflicts of interest.

Jacqui Maguire, Registered Clinical Psychologist, comments:

“Keep calm, carry on and respect your fellow Kiwis.

“Today’s announcement that New Zealand will sustain current alert levels for a further week is likely to fall on resigned ears. Masks and social distancing are becoming part of our new norm, and the longer we practice these new regulations the more embedded the habits becomes. Science shows that habits take approximately 66 days to form; once established reducing mental load and automating behaviours.

“However, today’s announcement may cause business owners and tourism operators upset and confusion. Social distancing is no long required on public transport, but remains in place under all other circumstances. Level 2.5 / Level 2 has significant impact on New Zealand’s economy and businesses bottom lines. This sense of unfairness and injustice may cause the individuals impacted distress.

“We must as a nation remain aware that others’ circumstances may differ to our own, and continue to demonstrate empathy, compassion and kindness.”

No conflicts of interest

Dr Paula O’Kane, Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management (HRM), University of Otago Business School, comments:

“Staying in the status quo for another week or so is disappointing for New Zealand business, particularly in the South Island, where many were anticipating a move to Level One. This lengthened time at Level Two adds extra stress to both business and employees.

“Businesses continue to see reduced turnover associated with restrictions on numbers, particularly in hospitality. For employees this adds to the worry about job security, and the ability for organisations to stay afloat, which can contribute to reduced wellbeing.

“We already know that job losses have been felt disproportionally by females and this latest extension may magnify this.”

No conflicts of interest.

Dr Bodo Lang, University of Auckland Business School, comments:

“The government has managed to keep New Zealanders compliant with COVID regulations. Reactance theory predicts that consumers can have strong negative reactions when they realise that their freedom is restricted. While government communication has been strong, the likelihood of ‘compliance fatigue’ could be reduced by paying careful attention to how to minimise consumers ‘reactance’ to taking away their freedom.”

No conflicts of interest