Author: Bridie Witton

A large Covid-19 outbreak would overwhelm contact tracing systems and force the country into lockdown, experts warn.

Epidemiologist Sir David Skegg says it is “almost inevitable” Covid-19 will reappear in the community, while a failure to act quickly could see New Zealand in the same situation as the Australian state of Victoria.

Sir David Skegg, an epidemiologist at Otago University, says New Zealand needs a greater sense of urgency in getting prepared, saying many countries that were enjoying success in controlling Covid-19 are now struggling with relapses.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews declared a state of disaster on Sunday, imposing new lockdown measures and an overnight curfew for Melbourne after a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths.

“In New Zealand we are enjoying a life of relative normality, but it is vital that we don’t become complacent.”

It is a situation which could “easily be replicated here, if we are not able to act quickly enough to eliminate the infection”, Skegg said.

“In New Zealand we are enjoying a life of relative normality, but it is vital that we don’t become complacent.”

Retail stores across Melbourne will close to customers as further stage 4 lockdown restrictions are implemented in response to Victoria's ongoing Covid-19 outbreak, coming into effect at 11.59pm on Wednesday, August 5.

His priorities for avoiding a Victoria-style outbreak included hand hygiene and physical distancing, better Covid-19 surveillance, targeted testing and sewage testing, more contact tracing capacity, and preparation for mass masking.

“We need a greater sense of urgency in getting prepared, because so many countries that were enjoying success in controlling Covid-19 are now struggling with relapses.

“We should be using this lull in the battle to prepare for the next challenge,” he added.

It has been 96 days since New Zealand has had community transmission, and cases would have to come from breaches in the managed isolation.

A single or isolated cluster outbreak would see the country move to alert level 2 where people would need to physical distance and there would be a 100-person cap on events.

If it progressed to suspected community transmission there could be a move to alert level 3 and a return to bubbles.

The most likely way the virus would infect Kiwis would be through a border control failure, Dr Nick Wilson, a public health expert at the University of Otago, said.

For a second wave to start there would be a sustained rise in infections.

Otago University public health professor Nick Wilson says the country would go into another lockdown if Covid-19 gets out of control.

Any outbreak would be followed by contact tracing, isolation and quarantine.

“If things get out of control, like in Victoria, we will be in that lockdown situation again,” he said.

One in four people with Covid-19 were not at home when door-knocked by the Australian Defence Force last week. Of the 221 Australians killed by Covid-19, 136 were in Victoria.

And Professor Michael Baker said complacency was “seeping” into life here, despite the ever-present threat of a large outbreak.

“The classic case is someone who has absconded from a facility, and gone to a big family event while infectious.”

Other ways the virus could enter the community were from airport staff, ship crews, managed isolation staff, and other unexpected arrivals.

“We could be Victoria tomorrow, unless we have the contact tracing systems working very well,” he said.

“The success in New Zealand came from managing borders and eventually closing them to non-New Zealanders. After that, it was an intense lockdown that stopped it.

“We would be swamped if we had a large outbreak in New Zealand,” he said.

University of Otago Professor of Public Health Michael Baker says mask use should be inlcuded in the alert level system.

Baker has long been an advocate for mass masking, which he said should be used in high-risk settings, and be included in the alert level system at level 2 and above.

International flights, airports, quarantine and isolation facilities, general practice waiting rooms, emergency departments of hospitals, and residential care homes were also places where the virus could spread.

There are 22 active Covid-19 cases in New Zealand.

Laboratories processed 1608 tests on Monday, while 383 swabs were taken in managed isolation and quarantine facilities. This was well below the 4000-test set by Health Minister Chris Hipkins last month.

The Ministry of Health has been approached for comment.

Note from Nighthawk.NZ:

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