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Covid response minister Ayesha Verrall will announce new Covid measures this afternoon (Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone)
Covid response minister Ayesha Verrall will announce new Covid measures this afternoon (Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone)

The BulletinJuly 14, 2022

New measures to combat Covid at orange, Greens call for clarity

Covid response minister Ayesha Verrall will announce new Covid measures this afternoon (Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone)
Covid response minister Ayesha Verrall will announce new Covid measures this afternoon (Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone)

As Covid case numbers rise, a move to red has been ruled out raising questions around the purpose of the traffic light system and a lack of clarity, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in The Bulletin.

 

Wastewater testing shows case numbers are rising much faster than expected

As the Herald’s Claire Trevett reported last night, today’s announcement about our ongoing response to Covid is tipped to include a provision of more free rapid antigen test (RATs) and masks. The provision of RATs is based on concerns that people aren’t testing and isolating. This morning the Herald is reporting that wastewater testing is showing that case numbers are rising much faster than expected. No changes to the current mask rules and isolation periods for the orange setting are expected. Covid response minister Ayesha Verrall will make the announcement this afternoon, after cabinet met on Monday. Stuff’s Kate Newton and Keith Lynch outline what we’re currently up against, taking a look at reinfections and why we’ll see more hospitalisations with this wave.

What is the red setting for? 

Yesterday prime minister Jacinda Ardern once again ruled out a return to “red”. We are back to hospitalisation and case numbers that mirror late March and early April this year when we were last in the red setting. The government’s position on the efficacy of restricting numbers at gatherings has been backed by some experts who want a focus on mask-wearing and ventilation. As Siouxsie Wiles writes “it’s well past time for the Covid Protection Framework to be revamped so that it focuses on ways we know we can reduce the spread of Covid through the air”. Terrible segue but also hanging in the air is a legitimate question about what the red setting, and indeed the traffic light system, is for. Perhaps an even worse variant that’s specifically not an iteration of the current variant?

What if new versions of omicron are more transmissible? 

That seemed to be the gist of the ministry of health’s scenario planning to tackle new variants, announced three weeks ago. Outgoing director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said “we’re assuming that the new variant has to be more transmissible than omicron”. But what if new versions of omicron are more transmissible? Virologists have voiced concerns about the emergence of another fast-spreading omicron variant BA.2.75 (nicknamed “Centaurus”), which is rapidly gaining a foothold in India and has already arrived in the UK. Wastewater testing results report that four cases have been found in New Zealand, all of which are currently associated with the border.

Greens call for return to clarity, say messaging is muddled

I don’t ask these questions as someone attempting a “gotcha”, I ask them as a person trying to reconcile the traffic light settings with the scenario planning and the current situation. Maybe I have some nostalgia for the clear communications of 2020. The Green party is calling for a return to that clarity saying the government’s messaging has become “muddled”. In a report from the ABC yesterday about rising cases in Australia, bioethicist Dr Diego Silva said people should demand that governments make the reasoning behind their decisions explicit. It’s a fair point, albeit in the context of the federated system in Australia. When we are being asked to essentially take individual responsibility for protecting our own health and the health of those around us, wouldn’t more knowledge be power? Or are we past absorbing it any more?

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