COVID-19 modelling expert urges Kiwis to prepare for level 4 lockdown in 2021

The AM Show 26/01/2021

This artilce was written by Newshub reporter Hannah Kronast

A COVID-19 modelling expert is urging Kiwis to prepare for an alert level 4 lockdown, which may be necessary if New Zealand experiences an outbreak of the more transmissible variant of the virus.

Shaun Hendy spoke to The AM Show on Tuesday about the new community case of COVID-19 and whether New Zealanders should be concerned.

Hendy said the Government and COVID-19 experts have been working to finesse the alert levels and figuring out different response plans.

He's warning that Kiwis need to be prepared for a lockdown in 2021, especially if there is an outbreak of the new, more transmittable variant.

"I would say you need to consider the fact that there could well be another lockdown. As I said this is stochastic - in other words, there is a lot of randomness going on."

He said harsher restrictions are needed to contain the more contagious strain.

"I don't think [a lockdown] is inevitable, but we need to be prepared for it and potentially have a harder lockdown than we had in August... So probably go to [alert level] 4. That's what we think to combat this more transmissible variant, we would probably need [alert level] 4."

However, he said it isn't likely New Zealand will go into lockdown as a result of the new Northland case. 

"It's not great but it's not the scenario we were facing in August when we didn't know the link to the border," he said.

"The situation where we would be looking to lockdown is when we don't have that link to the border and we would be looking at 50 to 100 cases. That's where we were in August in Auckland and we really needed that lockdown."

Hendy expects only around 10 more cases will emerge from the Northland case.

"When we catch a case like this early in the chain of transmission, then we are going to tend to see smaller numbers," he said.

"She might turn out to be the only person. She may not have infected anyone else."

He said they are likely to be able to trace and contain the spread using contact tracing and COVID-19 testing, rather than in August where they had to track backwards to find out who gave the virus to who.

Newshub reporter Madison Reidy said Northland locals have been lining up to be tested for the virus since 6:30am Tuesday morning.

"Most of these people say they were turned away from this testing station yesterday, some after waiting 11 hours," she said.

National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti and Ngatiwai Trust Board spokesperson Huhana Lyndon have been calling for the Government to get more resources to the area.

Hendy said it was a tough problem for the Government and health authorities to figure out where to put resources.

"From a modelling perspective, this is a hard question.  Where do you put all of your resources over the summer months? Where is the problem going to arise? It is a challenge, and I think we kind of knew this was going to be an issue over summer... Everyone's away from work, Auckland's empty... So where you'd normally have your testing capability, you can't put it there."