Coronavirus: Expert explains why NZ can't get complacent about COVID-19 over summer

One of the country's leading experts in infectious disease says the next few months will be "the most dangerous" when it comes to potential outbreaks of COVID-19 at the border.

The upcoming New Zealand-Australia quarantine-free travel bubble will free up spaces in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities for Kiwis returning from other nations, says University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker.

"We might see quite a perverse effect because once we divert people from Australia out of MIQ facilities in particular, that means there's a lot more space for infected people from the northern hemisphere to go into those facilities, so there will be more infected people than ever in New Zealand sitting in hotels around the country," he told Magic Talk on Tuesday.

"We know that poses a risk of outbreaks. It's just the nature of these systems, and mistakes will happen from time to time. I think we are potentially moving into the most dangerous phase for New Zealand over the next two to three months." 

That's because not only will there be potentially more people coming from what he calls "red zone" countries like the US, but the outbreaks in those places will be at their absolute worst thanks to the northern hemisphere winter. 

Dr Baker says for this reason, he's glad the Government hasn't rushed into setting up the travel bubble.

"I think the timing is good, and I'm actually pleased it's been pushed to next year because there are a lot of risks to manage over the summer period... You've got to make sure those other countries we are linking to are also managing their borders, they've got good testing and they've got good systems for managing outbreaks if they occur." 

After a massive outbreak centred on Melbourne earlier this year, Australia has joined New Zealand as one of the few countries in the world to have successfully eliminated local transmission of the virus. 

"Australia is managing COVID-19 now just as well as New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands have never had a case because they've excluded the virus very effectively."

Australia has had just over 28,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 908 deaths. New Zealand has had 2096 cases and 25 deaths. 

The confirmed US death toll on Tuesday (NZ time) passed 300,000.