COVID-19: New Zealand probably won't get back to alert level 1 normality again - Shaun Hendy

Disease modeller Shaun Hendy doubts New Zealand will ever get back to the normality of COVID-19 alert level 1 again.

New Zealand ditched its COVID-19 elimination strategy on Monday after the Government revealed Auckand's roadmap out of lockdown. The first stage of that roadmap begins on Wednesday, with groups of 10 from two households able to meet outdoors.

Those rules come into force despite there still being community transmission in Auckland, with 29 cases of COVID-19 reported on Monday.

Auckland is entering the eighth week of heightened COVID-19 restrictions, while the rest of New Zealand other than parts of Waikato are at alert level 2.

Hendy, from the University of Auckland, doesn't expect COVID-19 cases to balloon rapidly as a result of the roadmap - but told The AM Show the infection rate will increase.

"We've already seen cases get across the Auckland border - that's just going to be a fact of life now we have an uncontrolled outbreak… although we're suppressing it, cases will get out - we'll see pop up around the country from time to time."

That in itself is justification for keeping areas outside of Auckland and parts of Waikato in alert level 2 until COVID-19 vaccine coverage is high enough, Hendy said, despite the South Island not yet recording a case in the latest outbreak.

Shaun Hendy.
Shaun Hendy. Photo credit: The AM Show

"I think something that's really important for people to realise is level 1 is probably gone. That level 1 life that we've enjoyed a lot of over the last 18 months, we're not going back to that.

"We're going to have to have public health measures in place for the foreseeable future," Hendy said.

But University of Auckland professor of medicine Des Gorman, appearing on The AM Show alongside Hendy, disagreed.

"I don't agree with that pessimistic view about, 'we'll be wearing masks and having public health measures forever,'" Gorman said. "We don't tolerate any other disease this way - we will come to an accommodation of this disease. We'll decide what measures we're prepared to take."  

Des Gorman.
Des Gorman. Photo credit: Newshub Nation.

'No jab, no job, no fun' could be the only way to go - immunologist

New Zealand's future lies in the hands of people and whether they choose to get vaccinated against COVID-19, leading immunologist Graham Le Gros says.

"The virus isn't going to wait for us… We do have a problem - we don't actually know the underground virus - the one that's actually moving around and popping up here and there," he told The AM Show. "We can model, to a certain extent, the virus contacts we do know but it's these other ones.

"I really think that we're in a bit of trouble here and we need to get the vaccine out as quick as possible to everyone." 

Gorman said the Government's roadmap needed to incentivise vaccinations.

"We need to set a date here. I think we need to say that, 'on December 1, if you aren't vaccinated, these are the privileges you will surrender,'" he said. "We need to put some tension into the system."

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson defended the lack of detail given in the roadmap.

He said when Auckland will be able to move to stage two - where retail shops will be allowed to reopen - depends on the virus.

"Yes, it is also about vaccination uptake and yes, it's about the overall health system; not just hospitals but also our public health units and their ability to do contact tracing."