Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield.  (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

ScienceFebruary 27, 2021

Why the seven-day lockdown? Siouxsie Wiles, Shaun Hendy and more on the latest decision

Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield.  (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Auckland returns to level three lockdown for seven days as of 6am Sunday February 28, with the rest of the country going to level two. Here’s what the experts are saying, via the Science Media Centre.

Shaun Hendy

With new cases detected in the family of a Papatoetoe High School student, Auckland moves to alert level three for seven days while the rest of the country moves to alert level two. There are a number of concerns here. One of the cases developed symptoms on Tuesday, which means that they may have been infectious for the whole of last week. This may mean that there are downstream cases currently in the community that are also infectious.

Secondly, although it is possible that the chain of infection leads directly back to the cluster of cases at the school, the school pupil in the family tested negative three times and has not had symptoms. It is not impossible for someone to test negative three times, but it is unusual. Thus it is possible that the infection came via another route and that may mean there is another cluster of cases in the community, linked to the school or otherwise.

Finally, assuming the whole genome sequencing does establish a link to the cluster at the high school, these new cases have shown us the limitations of our contact tracing system when people are not able or willing to cooperate. Officials will need to take a look at how they can ensure people who need to isolate both understand the need to do so and are able to. New Zealand has been among the best in world in handling Covid-19 but these latest cases should be a reminder that we are all in this together.

Professor Shaun Hendy of Auckland University leads Te Pūnaha Matatini’s Covid-19 modelling programme.

Siouxsie Wiles

No doubt Aucklanders will be surprised and shocked by this evening’s announcement that we are moving up the alert levels once again. The details of today’s case are too concerning not to. Once again we have an unclear chain of transmission that led to case M. We know that they are a sibling of a student at Papatoetoe High who has already returned three negative tests and has not had any symptoms. Though it would be highly unusual, it is still a possibility this could be the source of case M’s infection. The serology testing may help shed some light on this as will the genome sequencing. We also have the fact that the case has been infectious in the community for as long as the last week and has visited a number of locations. 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.

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. Symptoms can include feeling tired and achy, loss of sense of taste and/or smell, fever, or respiratory symptoms like a running nose. People should also be wearing masks, and using the Covid Tracer app, including making sure Bluetooth is enabled in the app.

Siouxsie Wiles is a microbiologist and associate professor at the University of Auckland

Michael Plank

There were two key factors contributing to the decision to move Auckland to alert level three. One is that there is currently no established link between the new case and the existing Papatoetoe cluster. The second is that the new case has likely been infectious since 21 February and has visited a number of popular locations in the community.

Together these two factors mean there’s a high chance there are other cases we don’t know yet about, and they have potentially been out in the community for some time. It’s highly likely these new cases are the more infectious B.1.1.7 variant, which means the outbreak has the potential to spread faster. For these reasons, a seven-day period at level 3 makes sense. This will give our testing and contact tracing system the time they need to track down any extra cases and shut off chains of transmission. As frustrating as it is, this is the right move to keep Auckland and New Zealand safe.

Professor Michael Plank of the University of Canterbury works with Te Pūnaha Matatini 

Sarb Johal

The situation explained at the 9pm conference is dynamic and very difficult, with Auckland being plunged into a high level of uncertainty again. Our sense of psychological safety is being challenged from multiple directions – not only by the potential spread of the virus that is being actively tested and traced, but also through people breaching advice to self-isolate.

The reasons for these breaches seem to be complex and we certainly need to understand this to ensure it doesn’t happen again. We also need to be cautious not to set up a vindictive, toxic environment where people start to become reluctant to come forwards for testing for fear of exposure to social media backlash or worse.

Nevertheless, the collective trust and efficacy of the whole community following Government advice is under pressure. There may now need to be consideration about stronger enforcement action. But this needs to be carefully calibrated to ensure that people don’t stop presenting with symptoms or potential situations of virus exposure or transmission.

The seven days (at least) of Level 3 in Auckland will give some space to consider what happens next, balancing all these interests. No one wants to be in this situation. But it’s important that we consider all angles carefully in this coming period, weighing community public health with particular individual freedoms in a global pandemic.

Dr Sarb Johal is a psychologist

Andrew Chen

Contact tracing is about finding people who need to isolate. Digital contact tracing is about shortening time-to-isolation, preventing the further spread of the disease faster. These tools don’t work if people don’t follow the instructions and do not isolate. It’s important that people who are supposed to isolate do, taking away as many of their sources of stress as possible, so that the disease does not spread wider into the community.

Particularly with the circumstances surrounding this case, and the heightened emotions that many of us will be feeling, we should all be on guard for potential misinformation and disinformation. Some people will make stories up to explain the unexplained that fit their biases, and spreading this is ultimately unhelpful for everyone. If you hear something that doesn’t quite sound quite right, please double check the sources and refer to official sources before spreading it any further.

Dr Andrew Chen is research fellow, Koi Tū – Centre for Informed Futures, University of Auckland

Dougal Sutherland

“Be kind” has been the catchphrase of Covid-19. The prime minister said it, the media said it, everyone said it.

But kindness has its limits. Being kind takes extra effort, can be exhausting, even annoying, and it seems like it just lets people off the hook for all sorts of crimes and misdemeanours, like breaching the rules around alert levels for example. But if you’re over kindness, consider trying compassion instead.

Compassion can be defined as being aware of suffering (or potential suffering—including your own) and doing something to try to alleviate it.

The great thing about compassion is it works best if you direct it at yourself first. Recognise you stuff things up (unintentionally!), you say or do the wrong thing even when you don’t mean it, and sometimes things don’t go as you planned.

The simple act of self-compassion can lift a whole lot of stress and pressure off your shoulders. And it makes it easier to find compassion for others: to recognise they stuff up, get it wrong or aren’t as helpful as they should be.

After recognising this, actions tend to follow. You may find yourself more tolerant of others’ mistakes, more able to let things go, more willing to help when someone’s clearly got it wrong.

So, if you’re over kindness, try compassion instead. And as we once again move up alert levels, we’re going to need lots of it.

Dr Dougal Sutherland is a clinical psychologist at Victoria University of Wellington and Umbrella Health

Keep going!