COVID-19 modelling expert urges Govt to increase alert levels after new cases revealed to be UK variant

Physics and disease modeller Shaun Hendy is urging the Government to consider tougher restrictions following the announcement New Zealand's new COVID-19 cases are the UK variant.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced New Zealand had three new community cases on Sunday, sending Auckland into alert level 3 lockdown and the rest of the country into level 2.

Following genome sequencing overnight, the Ministry of Health confirmed the results show the COVID-19 variant B1.1.7 first detected in the United Kingdom.  

Hendy was on The AM Show when the news came in and said it will make the outbreak harder to eliminate.

"We know it is more transmissible, compared to the variant we were dealing with last year. If you were going to go and infect two people with the old variant, with the UK variant you might infect three. So it makes it more difficult to contain."

He said the Government has already taken a cautious approach by moving Auckland to alert level 3, but now that it's confirmed to be the UK variant, he's calling on the Prime Minister to consider increasing the COVID-19 alert level to 3.5 or 4.

"The current settings will definitely slow it down but if there is a large outbreak, it may take a long time to eliminate at level 3…

"I would certainly be recommending we start to think about tougher restrictions around level 3. This isn't a foregone conclusion but we may need restrictions which are a little bit tougher to get on top of the UK variant. That's definitely something that people should be prepared for."

Soon after the interview, the Ministry of Health confirmed the genomic sequencing had also found no link between the new cases and any previously reported cases in New Zealand.

"The results from these cases do not link directly to any other positive cases detected in New Zealand to date," a spokesperson said. "ESR is now conducting a scan of the international genome database to see if there is a match."

Hendy had warned not having a link would make it a "more frightening situation".

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