Alert level decision ahead – Expert Reaction

20 new Covid-19 community cases have been reported on Sunday, with Cabinet set to review the alert level settings for the country outside of Auckland on Monday afternoon.

The SMC asked experts to comment.

Professor Michael Baker, Professor of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington, comments:

“It should be safe to move Aotearoa New Zealand, outside Auckland, down to Alert Level 2 after Tuesday this week.

“This change requires three conditions. Obviously there should be no evidence of ongoing transmission of Covid-19 outside Auckland. Secondly, Alert Level 2 needs to be enhanced to include measures to prevent spread of a respiratory disease like Covid-19. And thirdly, there need to be measures in place to minimise the risk of essential workers infected with Covid-19 carrying the virus from Auckland to other parts of the country.

“Our group at the University of Otago, Wellington, have described how we think Alert Level 2 should be enhanced to provide a more effective barriers to Covid-19 transmission. The essential changes are firstly to require mask use in all indoor environments outside the home, including workplaces, schools and social meeting places. We know that physical distancing alone will not be enough to combat the highly infectious Delta variant which is transmitted easily through aerosols. Secondly, we recommend introducing a new ‘Alert Level 2 plus’ to provide a higher level of protection against transmission of this virus. The main additional measures at this level would be keeping the highest risk indoor environments closed while the risk of virus circulation is elevated and further limits on gathering sizes.

“Having an additional Alert Level would allow a more nuanced response to Covid-19. For example, it might be appropriate to move the South Island down to Alert Level 2, and the North Island outside Auckland to Alert Level 2 plus recognising that its proximity to Auckland means that additional measures are needed to minimise the size of outbreaks that could be generated by any undetected cases in the community.”

No conflict of interest declared.

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

“It is reasonable to expect at least for the South Island to move down to level 2 since we have not had any evidence of community transmission despite increased testing rates. The vaccination rates across NZ are also high, so it is reasonable to expect that the South Island may move to Level 2. However, even with level two, it would be necessary to maintain recording one’s presence (QR code scanning or otherwise signing in) to enable contact tracing, at least two metres separation rule, stricter rules around bars and pubs, and gatherings. Besides it is important to keep up vaccination rates as with R0 of 5-6 (delta variant), about 85% of the population needs to be vaccinated, wearing of masks, and avoid crowding. It may be challenging to control the border and movement of people across the zones.”

No conflict of interest declared.