Coronavirus: New Zealand not ready for COVID-19 alert level drop - modelling expert Shaun Hendy

Mask wearing and contact tracing should continue even if New Zealand drops to COVID-19 alert level 1 this week, according to an expert on disease modelling.

On Monday, the Cabinet is expected to make a decision regarding whether New Zealand should shift down levels. Auckland is currently at alert level 2.5, where gatherings are restricted to 10 people, while the rest of the country is at level 2.

Professor Shaun Hendy from the University of Auckland says he would like to see Auckland stay at alert level 2.5 for another week to ensure all the loose ends of the current COVID-19 cases are tied up neatly.

He told Newshub the Mt Roskill Evangelical Church sub-cluster proves there is still "some risk" of undiscovered cases. 

"There's still the possibility we have undetected cases around that cluster - so I think we probably need another week to really make sure we've seen the end of it."

COVID-19 is "tricky" in that people can be infectious but not have symptoms - so testing and contact tracing are crucial in the fight against the virus, Prof Hendy says.

"If people aren't cooperating with contact tracers, that really slows things down," he says.

"It's really important we cooperate as well as we can and if we do that we can expect a quicker return to normal."

But "normal" may not look like the pre-COVID normal did - Prof Hendy says if the decision is made to drop to alert level 1, masks should continue to be mandatory when distancing isn't possible. 

On top of that, testing numbers need to stay consistent to ensure cases aren't lingering undetected in the community. 

Prof Hendy says he would rather the decision be delayed in order to ensure there is a lower risk. He notes testing rates aren't as high outside of Auckland, meaning the rest of New Zealand is more vulnerable. 

"We need to make sure we don't have those cases in the community before we allow people to go back to those [large] events," he says.

New Zealand currently has 97 active cases of COVID-19. Of these, 39 are New Zealanders who have returned home from overseas and 58 are in the community.