Photo by Donna Robertson via Christchurch City Libraries

Lockdown extended to at least Tuesday – Expert Reaction

The nationwide Level 4 lockdown will continue until at least the end of Tuesday, with Cabinet to make a decision about any further extension on Monday.

The extension comes after three Covid-19 cases were confirmed in Wellington, in people who had travelled from Auckland before the lockdown began. 

The SMC asked experts to comment. 

Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles, School of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, comments:

“Keeping the whole of New Zealand at Alert Level 4 is the most prudent move given there are contacts that left Auckland and travelled to other parts of the country. Now we will need to wait a few more days to find out whether we will need to stay at Alert Level 4 any longer.

“It’s crucial we don’t move down the Alert Levels too quickly. The last thing we want is to have to move back to Alert Level 4 if we haven’t contained the outbreak. Given the number of locations of interest and the types of locations, we are likely to see case numbers rise.”

No conflict of interest declared.

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

“Extending Alert Level 4 nationally for another four days is the right decision to ensure this outbreak of the delta variant has minimal opportunities to spread further into the community.

“There are grounds for cautious optimism. It now looks likely that we detected this outbreak around 10 days after it first entered the community, which limits the time the virus has had to spread. Most of the cases found in the last two days are linked to the main cluster and not mystery cases. This is a reassuring sign that our contact tracing system is starting to work its way towards the edges of the cluster.

“However, there are also good reasons to remain cautious. There is a very large number of busy locations of interest and testing people from these locations could still generate a lot more cases over the next few days. We learned today that the outbreak has spread from Auckland to Wellington and it is quite possible that it could also have spread to other parts of the country. Around 150 contacts have been identified outside the Auckland and Waikato regions, including in the South Island. This shows that the decision to go to Alert Level 4 for the whole of New Zealand was the right move.

“Anyone who visited Auckland early this week and subsequently travelled home may still be in their incubation period. So it makes sense to extend the lockdown to allow time for people to develop symptoms and get tested. Relaxing the alert level too early while cases are still in the incubation period could lead to a disastrous outbreak, especially given how quickly the delta variant can spread. Finding contacts that are already staying at home and achieving high testing rates across the country, are two factors that will help build confidence that the outbreak is contained over the coming days. So we can all do our bit to keep the lockdown as short as possible by sticking to our bubbles and getting tested if you have even mild symptoms.”

Conflict of interest statement: I am partly funded by MBIE for research on mathematical modelling of COVID-19.

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

“Given how transmissible the Delta variant is, it was to be expected that we might see cases increase in the Auckland region and in other locations outside of Auckland. This is likely to mean a longer time at National alert level 4. People are responding well so far to this lockdown – the vast majority of people are staying home as required and only engaging with essential services when necessary.

“Many thousands of people are presenting for Covid testing across Aotearoa NZ and some of the testing centres are swamped. People who are registered with a GP can also contact their GP practice to find out if testing is available at their practice as this may offer a timed appointment slot.

“Very important is for everyone over the age of 12 to mask up effectively if they have to go outside or attend essential services and if you have any cold or Covid symptoms please do arrange to get tested asap.

“Lockdown with testing, masks, hand hygiene and QR code scanning will be the quickest way to ‘rein in’ this outbreak, so long as everyone plays their part.”

Note: Lesley has received a Health Research Council grant for this research: “Improving effectiveness and equity in the operation of COVID-19 ‘self-isolation’”

Jacqui Maguire, Registered Clinical Psychologist, comments:

“In response to today’s press conference – take one moment at a time. It’s not helpful to jump ahead. Focus on what you can control.

“Decide how you want to feel through lockdown, and then make action plans from there. Emotion is a key motivator.

“Avoid any form of blame. A negative focus is unhelpful for your mood and wellbeing. Nonetheless, every time we step out our front door we have been at risk of Covid, meaning any one of us could have been case A.

“Take time to plan as a bubble how you are going to manage lockdown. If you have children- the CARE model is helpful guidance.”

No conflict of interest declared.

Dr Dougal Sutherland, Clinical Psychologist, Victoria University of Wellington and Umbrella Wellbeing, comments:

“Battling mental “languishing” may be the biggest challenge for kiwis facing an extended period of lockdown. Languishing is when life has lost its flavour and meaning, when things just suck. It’s when people are low in their mental health but isn’t the same as having a mental illness.

“Languishing came into focus earlier in the year in Europe and the UK as people grappled with long periods in isolation. They weren’t particularly anxious or depressed, it was just like the air had gone out of their balloon.

“In New Zealand, our first major nationwide lockdown in 2020 was marked by heightened levels of anxiety as we were faced with an unknown and novel situation. This time around we have a better sense of what we’re in for, which may bring with it a sense of dread and frustration. Therefore, our efforts should be focused on how to keep our spirits up and remain mentally healthy as the lockdown continues.”

No conflict of interest declared.

Dr Sarb Johal, registered clinical psychologist, comments:

Note: This comment is extracted from Dr Johal’s book, Steady.

“One of the difficulties of lockdown is staying focused on the collective goal and avoiding stay-at-home fatigue. This occurs after a period of restriction, when we start to get cabin fever and feel tempted to break the rules, even if the virus hasn’t changed and the risk remains the same. During the initial lockdowns, one study following cellphone data showed that people started going out more frequently and travelling longer distances from home, after they passed that one-month mark of being confined to their home.

“One simple explanation for stay-at-home fatigue that has been used by economists is called ‘diminishing marginal utility’. During the first few days in lockdown, you probably had the opportunity to do things in the house that you were fairly enthusiastic about. Maybe you binge-watched Netflix, or built a blanket fort with your kids. But after several weeks at home your kids are driving you nuts, you’re tired of trying to direct their learning, you’re into the dregs of Netflix shows and you just want it to stop.

“In other words, you’ve used up all the ‘high utility’ (i.e. high happiness) activities and are now scraping the bottom of the barrel. Cue stay-at-home fatigue, and the creeping desire to get out.

“Many of us also appear to be driven by what it called ‘idleness aversion’. This may be a conditioned thing that we’ve grown to expect in life, but briefly, it’s our desire to get out of the house and do something, whether it’s a visit with friends or a trip to the burger place that’s more a craving than a necessity. Research shows that we don’t actually like sitting around and doing nothing for extended periods of time all that much.

  1. Reduce the overwhelm. You’ve done this before, you can do this again. Think about what worked for you last time and do more of that.
  2. Make a public promise. If this fits with you, tell people what you are doing. When you go public with your intentions, it immediately strengthens your resolve, so announce it to friends and family on Facebook or by email. A public commitment shifts your own thinking about your seriousness. No one wants to be embarrassed in front of others.
  3. Set up accountability partners. Recruit people like you to help you stay the course and build each other’s resolve. Create a system of accountability so that you can report your actions, successes and failures every day. This may be a friend or it could be on Facebook, or in a forum of some kind. Don’t just announce it once and then disappear; let the world know about your progress, and your successes.
  4.  Expect difficulties. There will be life situations that might get in the way of your efforts and it is so easy to allow them to undermine all your hard work. Think in advance of possible problems that might arise and decide how you will deal with these situations and how you can stick to the plan.
  5. Think of the consequences. Another way to strengthen your resolve is to think of the consequences before you take an action that will lead to them. Not just for you, but for everyone and all the effort that’s been put in so far. Pondering consequences certainly isn’t a magic pill, but it can help if you usually don’t think about the consequences until they become real. Because that will most likely be too late.
  6. Imagine others you respect can see you. Last but most definitely not least, you can benefit from some social pressure. Next time you want to choose the easy way out, imagine other people whose opinion you respect can see you. Would you still take that unnecessary trip if they could see you? And what would disapproval from them feel like to you? Yes, you’re essentially manipulating yourself, but if it works to strengthen your resolve to stick with a course of action that you value right now, then it’s certainly a tool you can go to.”

No conflict of interest declared.