Ashley Bloomfield and Jacinda Ardern at this evening’s press conference, at which it was announced all of NZ moves to Level 4. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Ashley Bloomfield and Jacinda Ardern at this evening’s press conference, at which it was announced all of NZ moves to Level 4. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Covid-19August 17, 2021

Why a swift move to alert level four was 100% the right call for New Zealand

Ashley Bloomfield and Jacinda Ardern at this evening’s press conference, at which it was announced all of NZ moves to Level 4. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Ashley Bloomfield and Jacinda Ardern at this evening’s press conference, at which it was announced all of NZ moves to Level 4. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

With no clear link to the border, it’s possible the virus has been spreading undetected for a significant period of time. In that case there could easily be more than 100 people infected by now, writes Michael Plank, a University of Canterbury professor and a key member of the modelling that has informed government decisions.

Moving the whole of New Zealand to alert level four is definitely the right move and will give us the best chance of nipping this outbreak in the bud before it can get too large.

Data from the outbreaks last year and the fact that the delta variant is about twice as infectious suggest that alert level three may not be enough to control the outbreak if community transmission has become established, whereas level four likely would be.

One thing we’ve learned from watching Sydney is that half measures can quickly lead to disaster. It’s better to go hard at the start and then relax than the other way round. With delta there are no second chances.

Although the case lives in Auckland, the virus could be anywhere in the country. The national alert level change buys us some time to see results of testing and contact tracing to assess how widely the outbreak has spread.

But because there’s no clear link to the border, it’s also possible the virus has been spreading undetected for a significant period of time. In that case there could easily be more than 100 people infected by now and a strict lockdown is our only available option.

The one thing that could get us out of jail is if contact tracing or genome sequencing establish a close link to the border with minimal community exposure. If that’s the case, we might still get away with only a handful of cases.

Vaccination will help slow the outbreak, but coverage is still too low to make a big difference. Although it hasn’t yet been confirmed, it’s almost certain this case is the delta variant of Covid-19 because all cases in MIQ over the last few weeks have been delta.

If we all play our part, there’s every reason to think that this outbreak can eventually be crushed. How long that takes will depend on how many other cases are out there, and we’ll know more on that front in the next few days.

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