Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by Michael Baker, Professor of Public Health, University of Otago
a leading health expert on New Zealand's coronavirus shutdown, and the challenging weeks ahead

Overjoyed. That’s not a word epidemiologists normally use, but that’s how I felt after hearing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement about New Zealand’s COVID-19 shutdown of everything except essential services for at least four weeks from midnight on Wednesday. More than anything, I just felt a huge sense of relief.

That New Zealand would have to take this step has become more and more apparent with every passing day. Having looked at the COVID-19 exponential trajectory that we were on in New Zealand, there really was no sensible alternative but to do this.

As the prime minister said in her address to the nation, while New Zealand had 102 COVID-19 cases at the time of making the announcement, those numbers will rise further. She referred to the risk of “tens of thousands” of New Zealanders potentially dying in a worst case scenario.

This shutdown is crucial in changing the course of the pandemic in New Zealand. The restrictions on people’s work, schooling and movements will be in place for a minimum of four weeks, with controls potentially lifted region by region once it becomes clear that the shutdown has worked.

NZ’s shutdown might last beyond four weeks

The New Zealand government announcement stated that all but essential services will close over the next 48 hours, with New Zealanders asked to stay home, after it appeared the community spread of coronavirus within New Zealand had begun – as my colleague Professor Nick Wilson and I feared it would.

New Zealand’s COVID-19 cases are on an exponential climb now – so it could be more than two weeks before we start to see the number of new cases level off and hopefully decline. These delays are inevitable. Level 4 starts in 3 days. It will take time for people to adjust their behaviour so we are all keeping our distance (at least 2 metres when out for a walk or for a trip to buy essentials). We then need to add in the incubation period as people being infected now and over the next few days will not become cases for 5-6 days after that.

I think four weeks will be the minimum shutdown period. More likely it will need to be longer, depending on the level of COVID-19 infection in the community.

Read more: Caring for 300,000 temporary migrants in New Zealand is a crucial missing link in our coronavirus response

The challenge ahead: expats returning from hotspots and more testing

Even after a complete shutdown for 4 weeks it’s still likely there will be some new cases. You might see some chains of transmission that affect a few generations of the same family, if they’re a big family or in close proximity – even among people following the rules.

Obviously in the weeks ahead, New Zealand has to keep working on its border controls. We’ve got a lot of expats coming back, many of them returning from places with coronavirus epidemics. That will be a wave of potential cases we’ll need to manage well.

If those people returning to New Zealand follow the rules and quarantine themselves at home properly, they should not infect other people (if they themselves are infected). But controlling this source will be crucial. It may be necessary to consider more supervised quarantine arrangements

In the meantime, we’ve got to use this four-week window to really ramp up our testing, contact tracing and quarantine systems.

Read more: Self-isolating for coronavirus is impossible for tens of thousands of New Zealanders – unless we help them fast

Why treating COVID-19 like an influenza pandemic was proving dangerous

COVID-19 is not influenza. All of our pandemic planning was based on treating this disease as if it was influenza, but this is a different virus. An eradication strategy for COVID-19 is a profoundly different approach to what we’d normally do with influenza – and our chances of success are so much better now that we’ve switched to this approach.

With a standard mitigation strategy, which is what usually applies with influenza pandemics, your response ramps up as the cases ramp up to ‘flatten the curve’.

But with eradication, you go full out at the start, and you eliminate the chains of transmission. In islands like Australia or New Zealand, it makes much more sense – but you have to turn the previous pandemic control approach on its head.

It felt extremely lonely for a while for my colleague Professor Nick Wilson and me, as we started to advocate for a different strategy.

Fortunately, Government leaders listened. And then all of a sudden, in just the past few days, the professional and public debate suddenly switched. Everyone I know, and every doctor in particular, was contacting me advocating a ‘lockdown’ of the whole country immediately. It’s been such a massive shift in thinking in a very short time.

There is a huge upside to the eradication approach. As Nick Wilson and I wrote in The Conversation last week:

Doing this now has the potential to slow undetected chains of transmission while containment measures are being ramped up. If containment is sustained, there may be the chance of avoiding the prolonged lockdowns seen in many countries.

The large health advantages of an eradication strategy, compared with a mitigation approach, have been described in another recent Conversation article.

  • Stay in touch with The Conversation’s coverage from New Zealand experts by signing up for our weekly newsletter – delivered to you each Wednesday.

Authors: Michael Baker, Professor of Public Health, University of Otago

Read more https://theconversation.com/overjoyed-a-leading-health-expert-on-new-zealands-coronavirus-shutdown-and-the-challenging-weeks-ahead-134395

Writers Wanted

I studied 5,000 phone images: objects were more popular than people, but women took way more selfies

arrow_forward

Bad reactions to the COVID vaccine will be rare, but Australians deserve a proper compensation scheme

arrow_forward

Pacific tourism is desperate for a vaccine and travel freedoms, but the industry must learn from this crisis

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

BEN FORDHAM: Scott Morrison, good morning to you.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben. How are you?    FORDHAM: Good. How many days have you got to go?   PRIME MINISTER: I've got another we...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Business News

Cybersecurity data means nothing to business leaders without context

Top business leaders are starting to realise the widespread impact a cyberattack can have on a business. Unfortunately, according to a study by Forrester Consulting commissioned by Tenable, some...

Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable - avatar Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable

InteliCare triple winner at prestigious national technology awards

InteliCare triple winner at prestigious national technology awards Intelicare wins each nominated category and takes out overall category at national technology 2020 iAwards. Company wins overal...

Media Release - avatar Media Release

Arriba Group Founder, Marcella Romero, wins CEO Magazine’s Managing Director of the Year

Founder and Managing Director of the Arriba Group, Marcella Romero, has won Managing Director of the Year at last night’s The CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards. The CEO Magazine's Ex...

Lanham Media - avatar Lanham Media



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion