Coronavirus: Infectious disease expert warns Kiwis to be prepared for the 'long game'

An expert in infectious diseases is warning Kiwis to get used to being in self-isolation, as it could be months until COVID-19 is stamped out here. 

Professor David Murdoch, of Otago University, says if we want to get back to living life as normal as quickly as possible, the best way to stop the spread of the virus is to minimise contact with others and be vigilant with personal hygiene - especially if you visit the supermarket.

"We're reinforcing hand hygiene that we should be following anyway - obviously it's more rigorous now, we've got more reasons to do that - but we just need to, as much as we're able to, follow those rules," Prof Murdoch told The AM Show on Thursday.

"The rules are really important and we've heard them many times and we'll keep hearing them many times but it's absolutely vital."

So far there have been 205 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in the country, with community transmission presumed in four of those cases.

On Wednesday, the Government announced a nationwide state of emergency, and as of 11:59pm the country went to alert level 4, meaning all non-essential businesses must close and people need to self-isolate. 

As New Zealand enters its first day of lockdown - which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said will last for at least 4 weeks - Prof Murdoch says it's hard to know how long it will be until we can declare the outbreak over.

"That's a difficult question and there's been many minds put to that at the moment," he said.

"We actually don't know and it's probably longer than we think. We do need to be prepared for the long game here."

Prof Murdoch echoed Ardern and the director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield in saying that things will get worse before they get better.

"[We'll] almost certainly have an increase in cases over the next week or so" due to the "lag effect", he said.

"Then we'd hoped to see it leveling off, and we obviously want to see a drop - and then we have to keep going, probably longer than we think."

It could potentially be months until we are given the all-clear, he said.

"The concern is that with a small number of cases still undetectable it could come back if we drop our guard, so I think we need to prepare for that.

"And mental preparation for that is actually going to be important, because if you think about it we're about to go through a protracted period of isolation and hopefully it will start to look better and then we're told to keep going further."

Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed more than 20,000 lives and there have been almost 460,000 confirmed cases so far.