Covid-19 cases in Christchurch – Expert Reaction

Two new community cases have been detected in Christchurch last night.

The two unvaccinated people are from the same household, and neither were regular users of the Covid tracer app. More information on how the Government will respond to the new cases, such as the possibility of a snap lockdown, is expected later today.

The SMC asked experts about the news.

Dr Andrew Chen, Research Fellow, Koi Tū – Centre for Informed Futures, University of Auckland, comments:

“It is unfortunate that the two cases in Christchurch were not active users of the NZ COVID Tracer app, and have made the job of contact tracing that much harder, especially given that they may have been infectious in the community for as long as a week.

“Contact tracing is one of our last lines of defense against COVID-19, because when the virus is already in the community, contact tracing helps us reduce the spread of the virus and stop more people getting sick. This is why keeping records of where you have been is so important – speed is critical. Every hour or day that contact tracers are delayed in their efforts to find potentially exposed people is another hour or day where an infectious person could be unknowingly spreading the virus. It may seem like a bit of a hassle, but we’ve all done a lot more for a lot less.

“NZ COVID Tracer is one way to keep your own contact tracing records. By scanning QR codes and turning Bluetooth Tracing on, you are giving yourself the best ability to get information to contact tracers quickly if needed. Furthermore, it gives you an extra chance of being alerted if your records match those of an active case. You should still check the Locations of Interest list on the Ministry of Health website when you can, but the NZ COVID Tracer app can also alert you when the contact tracers push out notifications.

“As an independent academic, I have reviewed the privacy framework of the app and it is safe to use from that perspective. Your data stays on your device, and only if you test positive for COVID-19 are you asked to voluntarily upload that data to the contact tracers to help them. For alerts, the contact tracers send information about exposure events to all devices, and the alert is generated on your device without passing any personal information back to the contact tracers. Using NZ COVID Tracer is the safest and fastest way to collect and maintain your contact tracing records – much better than writing details down on registers at shops or keeping a paper diary (although this is still better than nothing).”

Conflict of interest statement: I have had interactions with the Ministry of Health around digital contact tracing in an academic capacity, but am not employed or paid by them.

Dr Apisalome Talemaitoga, GP in Manukau, South Auckland, and Chair of the Pasifika GP network and the Pacific Chapter of the Royal NZ College of GPs, comments:

“I just find it unbelievable that we are allowing unvaccinated people out of Auckland to travel – for whatever reason. People should be doubly vaccinated before they can do this.

“This highlights the delay and ‘dragging the chain’ with rapid antigen testing. The fact we are still relying on a negative PCR test ‘before leaving Auckland’ sounds so ‘old hat’.”

No conflicts of interest declared.