Siouxsie Wiles explains what’s concerning about the new case, and urges a moment’s pause on today’s anniversary of the first case, to reflect on what could have been.
Auckland woke this morning to another week at alert level three, with the rest of the country at alert level two, after a new community case of Covid-19. It will have come as a shock, especially as Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield appeared at a Beehive press conference with very little notice at 9pm on a Saturday night. But the details of the case were too concerning to wait.
What’s so concerning about the new case?
Once again, we have an unclear chain of transmission. We know that the new case (M) is an older sibling of a student at Papatoetoe High who has already returned three negative tests and has not had any symptoms. So where did case M pick up the virus? Though it would be highly unusual, it is still a possibility that case M’s sibling is the source of their infection. This would be the best-case scenario as it would rule out other undetected chains of transmission.
Once again, the labs are working overtime to process samples to try to find out the answer. Blood has been taken from case M’s younger sibling which will be used to look for antibodies to tell us if they had been infected with Covid-19 despite their negative tests and having no symptoms. Genome sequencing has revealed the new case is linked to the recent Auckland community cases. The minister for the Covid response, Chris Hipkins, has said this morning that genome sequencing indicates a link to the second family in the cluster, cases E-H. What we don’t know yet is how it transmitted from that family to the latest case, or what other chains of transmission there might be.
The other concerning factor is that case M may have been infectious and going about their daily life for as long as a week and so has visited a number of locations and potentially exposed a large number of people to the virus. Moving Auckland to alert level three and the rest of the country to alert level two puts us in the best position to get on top of this outbreak as quickly as possible. We all saw what happened in Melbourne last year when they waited a few weeks before moving into restrictions.
Don’t misdirect your anger
At the press conference last night, it was also revealed that case M went for a Covid test and then went to the gym despite being told to isolate. I know lots of people will be angry at this. It’s very, very frustrating when people don’t follow the rules. But here’s the thing. For about the last year, we’ve had people with medical doctors and people with PhDs telling young people they have nothing to fear from Covid-19 and should in fact be allowed to get on with their lives. Do not underestimate the impact these messages will have had on some people.
Here in NZ, it’s the Plan B academics and their supporters, including the head of Blackland PR. Internationally it’s the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration. They’ve been cherry picking evidence to argue that the pandemic should be managed by the herd-immunity-by-infection route. At its worst, young people around the world are being told that them getting infected is how we get herd immunity. As far as I’m concerned that’s bollocks. But the message that we need to “learn to live with the virus” has been spread far and wide, especially on social media. Some are even engaging with people spreading conspiracy theories and anti-vaccination propaganda.
Dr Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris’ collaboration on coverage of Covid-19 is funded by The Spinoff Members – please join us and support this vital work
Remember what could have been
Today is also the one-year anniversary of the day the pandemic officially arrived in New Zealand with the announcement of our first confirmed case of Covid-19. On the same day Azerbaijan, Belarus, Iceland, Lithuania, Mexico, and Monaco also had their first confirmed cases. Globally there were 84,090 cases and 2,874 deaths. Just 87 of those deaths were outside China.
One year on, there are over 113 million confirmed cases and over 2.5 million deaths. We know both of those numbers are underestimates. Here in New Zealand, we’ve had 2,018 confirmed cases and 26 deaths. Today is a day to reflect on the loss those families have suffered and the ongoing effects those with long Covid are experiencing.
But it is also a day to reflect on what could have been. How are Azerbaijan, Belarus, Iceland, Lithuania, Mexico, and Monaco faring? If we adjust for our population sizes, we’ve had 418 confirmed cases and 5 deaths per million people. Monaco has had very similar numbers to us with 1,932 confirmed cases and 23 deaths but its population is only 38,400 so that works out at 50,312 cases and 599 deaths per million people. Similarly, Iceland has had 6,049 confirmed cases and 29 deaths but their population is 364,000 giving them 16,618 cases and 80 deaths per million people. As for Azerbaijan its 23,330 and 320, Belarus 29,873 and 206, Lithuania 70,268 and 1,151, and Mexico 16,220 and 1,440. If you are curious what the numbers are for the USA, one of the countries ranked most prepared to respond well to a pandemic, the answer is 86,227 and 1,542.
We know what to do
Today is another anniversary. It’s a year since the Spinoff published my article A practical guide to dealing with the arrival of the coronavirus in New Zealand. I had written it the day before our first confirmed case was announced. I knew the arrival of the virus into New Zealand wouldn’t be far away. I wasn’t wrong.
In my piece, I asked people not to panic, and to check in with family, friends, and neighbours. I explained how, regardless of what all our favourite apocalyptic books, movies, and TV shows might have us believe, the communities that survive disasters the best are those that work together to share their resources and make sure no one is left out in the cold. Be kind, I wrote. We’re all in this together.
That message is as true today as it was a year ago. It is absolutely vital that everyone, regardless of where they are in New Zealand, keeps an eye out for symptoms and if they have any, quickly contacts Healthline or their GP to arrange to get tested. That is how we find any cases in the community and stop the virus spreading further. It is especially important now we have more infectious variants of the virus evolving.
At the press conference last night, the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, stressed that we are seeing a lot more people with Covid-19 just feeling achy and tired rather than having respiratory symptoms like a running nose. So, don’t think you just overdid it at the gym or that your symptoms are the result of a big night out. Get tested. Other symptoms include a loss of sense of taste and/or smell, and a fever.
What else can you do? Wear a mask. And not just on public transport. Start getting into the habit of wearing one when you are in an enclosed space with strangers. And use the Covid Tracer app to record where you’ve been. When you enter a new place, take a moment to pause and look around to see where the QR code is. Take out your phone or tablet and once you’ve found the QR code, scan it. You can even record who you were with. Then take a moment to think of all the contact tracers and the rest of New Zealand cheering you on for scanning and making contact tracing all that much easier. So, remember, stop, scan, smile! Even better, switch on Bluetooth on your phone and then make sure it’s enabled in the Covid Tracer app. If you don’t have a phone or tablet that can use the app, then have a pen and paper handy and make a note for yourself as well as signing the register that should be provided by the business.
And, as we steel ourselves for another challenge, remember: we’ve done it before and we can do it again.