Coronavirus: New Zealand should stay in level 4 lockdown 'a bit longer' - expert

While New Zealand's response to the COVID-19 crisis has been praised throughout the world, an expert believes the country should remain in lockdown for a slightly longer period - at least in some parts.

Te Pūnaha Matatini director Professor Shaun Hendy, from the University of Auckland, has been modelling New Zealand's COVID-19 outbreak for the Government. One research paper he co-authored suggested up to 80,000 Kiwis could die without strict lockdown measures.

More recent studies released last week have found relaxing strict measures could see COVID-19 come back.

On Thursday, the Government announced what alert level 3 would look like. Dropping to that level would bring the country out of lockdown but strict distancing measures will remain in place. 

Originally, the Government said New Zealand would remain under lockdown for at least four weeks. The country would have been under alert level 4 for a month on Thursday and a decision will be made on Monday whether the country drops to level 3 or remains under lockdown.

However, Prof Hendy said on Wednesday he believes New Zealand, if not the whole country then some parts, should remain under alert level for "a bit longer".

"We're still getting cases in the bigger centres - Auckland, Christchurch, and Southland - so I think those parts of the country should probably stay in lockdown for a bit longer, whereas other parts of the country, I think, could come out a bit earlier," he told Magic Talk's Ryan Bridge.

"I don't know if the Government's going to do that - there are other challenges to doing it regionally."

During Thursday's press conference, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed why COVID-19 alert level 3 rules remained strict.

New measures need to be strict so daily cases didn't increase when Kiwis had more freedom, she said.

"There are promising signs our 'go hard and go early' elimination strategy is working and the lockdown is breaking the chain of community transmission," she told reporters.

"Any move to level 3 cannot put those gains at risk.

"The whole goal of level 3 is actually to maintain and keep improving."

Prof Hendy said seeing "close to zero" new daily cases would indicate there's no community transmission and may be a deciding factor.

"That was the whole point of the lockdown - to eliminate community transmission," he explains.

"If you can do that then we can be really confident that we won't have to go back to level 4 again.

"To come out too early - then we may find in another month that we're going to have to go back into level 4 and I think that would be really bad."

Ardern said on Thursday alert level 3 would be a progression and the Government would not rush the country back to normality.