Coronavirus: Time for New Zealand to stop lockdown 'overreaction', go back to school and work, health expert says

It's safe to put a halt to the coronavirus lockdown and return to work and school now, a leading public health academic claims.

Dr Simon Thornley, a senior epidemiology lecturer at the University of Auckland, says the alert level 4 response to COVID-19 has proven to be "an overreaction", and can now be scaled back.

Dr Thornley is a member of the group of public health experts who have in recent days voiced disapproval of the New Zealand Government's handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

And like his fellow group members, he suggests the majority of Kiwis actually have very little to worry about.

"We believe the lockdown is an overreaction, [as] most working people and children are at very low risk of any harm from the virus," Dr Thornley told Peter Williams on Magic Talk on Wednesday morning.

"We believe we should pay attention to protecting people in nursing homes and the elderly, and reducing the risk of disease spread in hospitals - but for the rest of us, we believe we can go back to work, school and university.

"We have suggested that due to increases in imported cases, that border restrictions remain in the near future, and we still maintain some social distancing. However we believe the big ticket items, such as going back to school and work, can go ahead."

Dr Thornley says the proof relaxing our alert level won't spell disaster is lying just across the Tasman.

In Australia, like here in New Zealand, the number of new daily coronavirus cases has been falling - but the Australian government has achieved its goals without the stringent lockdown restrictions we've had in place here.

"The Australian experience has been that 'you can carry on', and Australians have actually done very well through this pandemic ," Dr Thornley continued.

"Their cases have been progressively declining for the last three weeks, which we believe is very good news.

"We are a lot like the Australian situation in many ways, in terms of our lifestyle, and the Australians have had a lot lesser lockdown and they have been able to contain the virus very effectively."

On Tuesday morning, the decision to enter into lockdown when Australia had achieved similar results without the same measures was brought into question by members of the Epidemic Response Committee.

Both National MP Paul Goldsmith and ACT leader David Seymour asked whether it proved New Zealand could have handled its response to COVID-19 differently - particularly considering the economic damage being in lockdown has caused.

Despite mounting pressure, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has repeatedly stated New Zealand will not end its lockdown before four weeks is up - and may even extend alert level 4 beyond next Wednesday.