Auckland has two more weeks in Level 4 – Expert Reaction

Cabinet has decided Auckland will stay at alert level 4 for another fortnight, while Northland will move to alert level 3 on Friday if Covid-19 test results allow.

The rest of New Zealand will move to alert level 3 on Wednesday for one week, to be reviewed on Monday. Cabinet will relook at Auckland’s lockdown status on Monday 13 Sept. The decisions come after 53 new cases were announced today, all in Auckland.

The SMC asked experts to comment. 

Dr Amanda Kvalsvig, Epidemiologist, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington, comments:

“It is now urgent that we upgrade the Alert Level system. Starting this week, two urgent improvements are:

“Alert Level 3 lacks protections for essential workers, particularly the improvements to indoor air quality that are needed to keep these workers and their families safe, including their children who may now be returning to school. New Zealand needs to catch up to the rest of the world and ask secondary-age students to wear masks indoors at school, and encourage primary-age students to do so where appropriate.

“It’s essential, however, that no-one is stigmatised if wearing a mask is not possible for them. Improving indoor ventilation in schools is also a vital protection that works together with masks to reduce viral spread through the air, and my colleagues and I are reviewing this issue at the moment.

“For those at Alert Level 4, there need to be far more supports in place. Hunger was a widespread problem in NZ even before the pandemic, but this problem has been significantly worsened during Alert Level 4. New Zealand produces many more times the amount of food than is necessary to feed all of us. No-one should be hungry. The solutions are about much more than food parcels. Food sovereignty – where people have self-determination over what they eat – is mana-enhancing and sustainable. Supporting food sovereignty includes increasing benefits and payments, and funding community gardens and other community-level initiatives to prevent hunger and hardship.”

No conflict of interest

Professor Nick Wilson, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, comments:

“The declining number of cases reported today is encouraging – but daily numbers can jump around and so we can’t yet be confident of this being a downward trend. Nevertheless, given the information on the new cases just being in Auckland and the negative test results outside of Auckland (community testing and wastewater) the Alert Level shifts proposed today make good sense. (See here for our recent blog on the particular value of the wastewater test results for helping to determine if a region is Covid-19-free).

“But there is still more the Government could do to further accelerate outbreak control and speed up the time to achieving elimination status again:

  1. Further accelerate vaccination of essential workers in Auckland and their whanau. This includes their children aged 12+ years, some of whom will be going back to school in Alert Level 3 conditions. There may be a need to move vaccine supplies and vaccination teams from other parts of the country to help Auckland out.
  2. Reducing the numbers of essential workers in Auckland – especially in any factory settings where workers are close together and ventilation is not easy to improve.
  3. Improving ventilation, as we detail in a blog we published today. Such improvements can be as simple as opening windows.
  4. Mandating mask use indoors in all settings outside the home at both Alert Level 3 and 4 (including schools when these open for the children of essential workers at Level 3).
  5. Tighten the borders around Auckland so that essential workers crossing the border are required to be fully vaccinated and to have a negative rapid antigen test at the border (such tests only take 15 minutes to provide a result).

“All these actions seem feasible and would be likely to speed up progress to regaining elimination status for the country.”

Conflict of interest statement: Nick Wilson has no competing interests. He gets no funding for any of the research he does on Covid-19.

Dr Sarb Johal, registered clinical psychologist, comments: 

These comments were previously posted on Dr Johal’s Twitter today.

“Auckland is staying at Alert Level 4 for 2 more weeks – so there are hard yards to come – but KEEP GOING. The more you stick to public health measures, the quicker the step down to Level 3.

“For the rest of New Zealand, remember that Alert Level 3 still means that caution is required. Please stick to the guidelines to stop any re-emergence. Just because numbers are going down doesn’t mean the risk has gone. The incubation period means the virus could still be circulating – seeking new people to infect and form new chains of infection. Its important to stay home and stay safe to reduce risks for all and to increase our speed back to Level 2: book a vax, get tested if you have ANY symptoms, wear a mask when out of your home, stay well-distanced, and wash those hands. Behaviour is still our best protection.

“We have lower case numbers reported today, and this is an encouraging sign. For many people, this will come as a great relief and a sign that Alert Level 4 is doing it’s job. To really make sure we get on top of this outbreak and to give us the best chance of moving into a different stage, we need to really focus on adhering as closely as possible to public health advice. This isn’t a time to go easy, slack off, or cut corners. Keep on keeping on. STAY HOME and protect each other.

“After 18 months of becoming familiar with how we need to behave in order to protect ourselves and each other, we need to prepare ourselves for possible likely changes. Dealing with change is hard, even if it promises a better outcome. That outcome might not be the one we hoped for, but it’s better than what might be if we don’t make these changes. We might wish that we could just get back to 2019 and how life was. Simple, care-free, no regulations or restrictions to keep us safe. But we actually did have restrictions that we accept, like traffic lights, wearing seatbelts, and not smoking in places where it can harm others.

“We might feel betrayed that vaccines won’t automatically release us of all future restrictions too. The virus has changed. Although we may wish it wouldn’t, this is the reality. We have no choice but to react in response while constantly updating our knowledge about the virus. This will change, and fast. And we need to react rapidly because our BEHAVIOUR is still our best protection.

“As we figure out the best settings for public health protection, and how to support the most vulnerable, we need to focus on how we can control ourselves in order to give ourselves, together, the best chance of getting to a better future. It may take a while longer than we initially thought. It may not take us to a place we hoped we would be. Life throws us curveballs. We have reacted well so far. As the virus changes, so just our behaviour. Prepare to learn how to optimise. Again and again.”

No conflict of interest declared. Note: Sarb is the author of the Covid-19 pandemic psychology book, Steady: Keeping Calm in a World Gone Viral.