Coronavirus: 2.5 still 'the right level' for Auckland - Michael Baker

A public health expert says 2.5 remains the right COVID-19 alert level for Auckland, as New Zealand awaits a decision on whether current restrictions will be lifted or stay in place.

But Professor Michael Baker says there's "a case" for moving the rest of New Zealand down to alert level 1, although he'd like to see an "alert level 1.5".

Baker told The AM Show on Monday Auckland needs a few days of zero cases before we can look at shifting down a level. 

Currently, New Zealand is at alert level 2 and Auckland "2.5" - the difference being Auckland is restricted to gatherings of 10 people and the rest of the country 100.

An announcement is expected later on Monday on potential level changes from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Auckland is in a more restrictive environment due to the latest community cluster originating and being contained in the super city. Sixty-three people linked to the cluster remain in quarantine at the Jet Park Hotel.

Prof Baker, an epidemiologist from the University of Otago, says Auckland is not ready for a drop in alert levels.

His comments echo that of University of Auckland disease modelling expert Prof Shaun Hendy, who says he'd like to see the super-city remain at level 2.5 for another week.

It comes after a public health warning was issued on Sunday, after a person with COVID-19 visited several places on Auckland's North Shore before they knew they were infected.

Locations they visited included the Les Mills gym in Takapuna, Countdown Milford and The Warehouse Milford.

The big lesson learned from New Zealand's first COVID-19 outbreak is that people have to remain patient, Prof Baker said.

Michael Baker.
Michael Baker. Photo credit: Newshub.

"We've still got active cases in Auckland - I think it's too soon to lower the level there - so we need to keep the pressure on this virus until we're certain that we've stamped it out fully," he told The AM Show.

"I think it's [2.5] the right level - remembering with this virus we're always looking two weeks back - so the cases we're seeing at the moment reflect events that happened some time ago and so we're not really clear yet if we've stamped out all these lines of transmission.

"We need to be very cautious coming out of this level 2.5 - we need, at least, a few days of having no cases at all and we need to be able to look back and say, 'we're confident that there are no more chains of transmission we've missed in the community'."

While keeping Auckland at alert level 2.5, Prof Baker said there's a case for moving the rest of New Zealand down from level 2 to 1.

"We've been advocating for having another level; 1.5, just like 2.5, and this is really so that we can limit the size of big indoor gatherings because that's where you can get these super-spreading episodes.

"I think many people around the country - they want to get the added freedom of level 1 but I think we all have some concerns about still limiting the potential for transmission of this virus.

There were two new coronavirus cases reported in New Zealand on Sunday - one a health worker in Auckland's quarantine facility and the other an overseas returnee in managed isolation.

Sunday marked the first time in a month there were no reported cases linked to the Auckland cluster.