Coronavirus: Expert says New Zealand needs to learn how to live with COVID-19 after Wellington scare

A COVID-19 expert says New Zealand needs to learn how to live with the disease after a visit from an Australian carrier saw Wellington scale up its response to alert level 2 on Wednesday.

The case flew to the capital from New South Wales over the weekend, visiting many of the city's most popular establishments before flying back home on Monday and testing positive for the virus.

The detection of the case has set alarm bells ringing in New Zealand, where there's been no community transmission of coronavirus since February 28 - 115 days ago. Contact tracers are investigating and those who went to locations of interest have been urged to get tested.

But Associate Professor Nikki Turner, from the University of Auckland's Immunisation Advisory Centre, says infections arriving here from overseas are something Kiwis need to get used to.

She says even though New Zealand has managed to wrangle control over COVID-19 domestically, internationally it's running rampant with more than 350,000 new cases cropping up daily - and there's no end in sight.

"COVID is with us internationally long-term - it's not going to go away and we won't get international eradication," Prof Turner told Newshub.

"New Zealand needs to recognise that unless we're going to live completely isolated, we will continue to get COVID imported from outside. And we have to think hard about how we manage those importations. Vaccination is crucial, but it's only part of a combination strategy…

"New Zealand, with the best management in the world, is going to try and stop the spread of COVID through our community. That will involve high vaccination rates but also public health measures - because the moment we start to ease up on the borders at any stage, we will start getting COVID."

Prof Turner says while the vaccine rollout has matched supply levels, it's going to be a few months yet before we have high vaccination rates - and until then we've got to be "extremely diligent".

"It behoves all of us to manage not just with vaccination, but with all our traditional public health measures to stop the spread of it, because we will continue to see COVID coming into New Zealand," she said.

"It really depends how effective we can vaccinate and also how effective our public health measures are - whether when the virus arrives, how far it spreads or whether we can stamp it out."

Prof Turner believes the Government will need to go for a "staged opening" when it comes to opening up to other countries, starting with territories that have very low rates of transmission.

But she says the time to open up to more countries beyond Australia and the Cook Islands will be when we've vaccinated more of the population, as it "would be unfair to put our people at risk".

Wellington will move to alert level 2 at 6pm on Wednesday until at least 11:59pm on Sunday. All four close contacts have tested negative.