Medical expert slams Govt's 'best in show' mentality, warns it leads to complacency

A leading medical expert has slammed the Government's COVID-19 response mentality to get New Zealand "world-leading" again, warning it can lead to a "dreadful place" of complacency.

New Zealand gained a reputation in international media for having one of the world's leading COVID-19 responses following the quick and successful lockdown in early 2020 which successfully eliminated the virus from the community.

However, over the past year New Zealand has plummeted from the top spot to number 38 in Bloomberg's COVID Resilience Rankings - attributed to the relatively slow vaccination rollout.

The reputation has been put in doubt over the last two months while the country struggles to control the Delta outbreak and drive vaccination rates.

University of Auckland professor of medicine Des Gorman told The AM Show on Tuesday he is particularly concerned at comments by the Government to return New Zealand to "best in show".

"It really worries me when I hear the Government talking about we're going to be world-leading again," he said. 

"This is not an exercise in being first or second, this is an exercise in managing our risk to get us to the best possible situation. I'm not interested in someone's curriculum vitae and being able to claim how wonderfully well we did. 

"I want to see us handle this as expeditiously as possible. I'm really worried about that 'best in show' mentality. It leads you down a dreadful place because you become complacent and you stop learning. I think you start fitting the facts around the narrative."


Prof Gorman said the Government's response shows New Zealand needs a plan to reopen, which provides a clear timeline.

"We need a timeline because we need some tension in the system otherwise we are just going to drift away for weeks or months," he said.

National on Wednesday morning announced its plan to end COVID-19 lockdown restrictions by December 1.

Leader Judith Collins told The AM Show on Wednesday the party would put an end to lockdowns, reopen New Zealand's economy and "reconnect to the world".

This would happen when New Zealand hits 85-90 per cent vaccination, along with district health boards and age-based milestones, or on December 1. She said they would implement the changes based on whichever comes earlier.

The Government is yet to confirm targets for when New Zealand will reopen.


Ninety-four new COVID-19 cases were recorded on Tuesday - the highest ever daily cases in New Zealand.

Of the cases, 41 are linked and 53 remain unlinked. Regionally, 87 are in Auckland and seven are in Waikato. 

Prof Gorman said Kiwis will have to get used to the higher daily case numbers.

"This is just the new normal, these numbers are not surprising and they will go up into the low 100s I'm sure of it," he told The AM Show on Wednesday. 

"I mean 90 percent of all Aucklanders have had at least one vaccination. This is not going to go berserk. We are going to have a modest increase in numbers and the health system will cope."

He said despite the "Greek chorus" of experts "claiming the world's about to end" with thousands of cases, he doesn't believe New Zealand will see such rampant numbers.

Prof Gorman also believes the health system will cope.

"Basically if we put more critically ill people in ICU it will displace some people down to high dependency units. It will displace some people to the wards, it will displace some people to home but this happens every winter during the flu season. 

"The system adjusts, the system prioritises. The cost of a large number of cases of unvaccinated people with COVID going to the hospital is some people with heart disease, or cancer will miss out on the care they need . There will be a price to be paid but the health system will cope."

But senior intensive care specialists say they are scared the country's health system will be overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases as soon as Delta spreads further. They're also afraid of what will happen to New Zealand's ICUs.

"I am afraid. I'm afraid for the public. I'm afraid for the hospitals, the health service. I'm afraid for my colleagues, our team, we have a very close-knit team and I'm afraid that this will be overwhelming for us," Tania Mitchell, chairperson of the College of Critical Care Nurses, said.

Craig Carr, New Zealand chairman of the Australia and NZ Intensive Care Society, agreed, saying they are "watching with bated breath" due to a recent slight increase in demand in intensive care services.