Exiting level 4 lockdown and moving to level 2+ can happen relatively quickly if monitoring and tracing are in place, and the Covid-19 testing capacity and speed of results is sufficient, according to leading New Zealand scientists.
Sir Peter Gluckman says hard measures are necessary to manage the transition and the serious impediments to the economy and society will be significantly reduced the earlier New Zealand can safely move towards level 2+.
Sir Peter is the former Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister and the Director of Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures, an apolitical and independent think tank at the University of Auckland.
He co-authored a discussion paper ‘The Future is Now’ with Koi Tū Deputy Director Dr Anne Bardsley released today. The paper is a result of Koi Tū engaging with academic and sector leaders and thinkers to consider some of the macro issues that will emerge over the coming months and years.
At level 2+, the only formal restriction remaining would be strict border control, and restrictions on very large gatherings. In such a scenario there is likely no need to segment sectors or regions unless the occasional new cluster emerges.
Sir Peter says if no rebound in infection rate is observed after 1-2 viral cycles (14-28 days) after initially relaxing level 4, we could move quickly to level 2+ (while maintaining strict border control and control on large gatherings).
Another potential measure is the possibility of certifying companies to reopen subject to compliance.
“There will need to be a substantive change in focus from what is labelled an ‘essential service’, to one focused on defining how businesses can operate in a safe manner under relaxed guidelines. One possibility is to certify companies to be allowed to reopen subject to compliance with predefined control commitments,” he says.
“These could for example include staff having a contact-registering app operating, staff wearing face-masks, frequent hand sanitising or gloves, provision for paid sick leave for all with any symptoms (this helps ensure staff do not come to work with mild symptoms), temperature and health checking at the worksite entry, social distancing supervision, and possibly sentinel testing of some fraction of the workforce.”
Sir Peter says there are health, social, economic and logistic, considerations that have to be taken into account in loosening restrictions.
“This is not just a simple modelling or econometric equation. It is not until level 2+ is reached, that the internal economy can really start to move towards some sense of normalisation at least for some sectors and people can return to their normal lives,” he says.
“These decisions will require in-depth ongoing analysis of the pattern of disease in New Zealand to date, including ideally some knowledge on community exposure at least through sentinel surveillance, and consideration of the possible impact of impending colder months. Given the inevitability of imperfect elimination, and given some probable level of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread, it will be critical to have rapid and highly effective and high capacity contact tracing in place before relaxing restrictions.”
He stresses our success to date is no guarantee of success at other levels.
“The conundrum of our low rates of morbidity and mortality versus the northern hemisphere creates the impression we could move faster, but while that remains poorly understood, it is not a reason to be overconfident.”
The paper is the first in a series looking at issues that will emerge from the pandemic. It identifies many urgent questions – affecting every aspect of New Zealand’s future – that will need deliberate and informed reflection.
Dr Bardsley says the paper aims to catalyse important conversations that are needed in the wake of New Zealand’s response to Covid-19.
“It is clear that we won’t go back to where we were before, instead we will inhabit a new normal,” she says.
“Social, environmental, business and geostrategic impacts will echo for a long time and force both global and local change. We must seize this opportunity to have urgent reflection on many issues, not just to recover from the horrific disruption, but to find the opportunities for a better future.”
We would have had to confront many of these issues in coming decades anyhow, but the crisis has accelerated the discussion, says Dr Bardsley.