Coronavirus: NZ only eight days behind the UK - expert

A health expert has claimed COVID-19 is "almost certain" to be spreading in the community now, despite scepticism from officials.

Epidemiologist Sir David Skegg, who has worked as a consultant to the World Health Organization and is a former vice-chancellor of the University of Otago,  warns 66 cases is a lot for a country of our size.

Two of those cases haven't yet been traced back to overseas travel, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said at the weekend. 

But with reports of infections amongst school communities in Auckland, Sir David says we need to take the likelihood of community transmission more seriously.

"I always find people are surprised when I point out that we're following the UK, about eight days behind, when you adjust for population size," he told Newshub.

He says testing is heavily skewed to people who have been overseas, so we may be missing cases.

"People have downplayed the likelihood of community transmission. I think it's almost certain that has been occurring. I can't see why it wouldn't - the virus will behave here the same way it has in other countries." 

The UK has had a confirmed 5683 cases of COVID-19, with 281 deaths. The UK's first death was two-and-a-half weeks ago. Eight days ago, they had just over 1000 confirmed cases. 

Worldwide, more than 14,000 people have been killed by the virus so far, and 322,000 confirmed infected. No one in New Zealand has died yet.

"It's essential that we get all our scientific experts contributing and we are able to debate the options ahead of us."

New Zealand is currently at level two in its four-level alert system. There have been loud calls to skip level three and go to level four immediately, effectively putting the country into lockdown. 

At present, the advice is to avoid non-essential travel and work from home, if possible.