Explained: Government's COVID-19 modelling shows how thousands could die if rules are flouted

The Government released the modelling it used to determine its response to COVID-19, and it's bleak: If New Zealanders don't obey the lockdown, thousands could die. 

"We face a major challenge to avoid tens of thousands of deaths," Health Minister David Clark told the first meeting of the Epidemic Response Committee on Tuesday via videoconference.

The modelling shows that if eradication fails, up to 14,400 people will die, 8000 will need intensive care, 32,000 will be hospitalised, and up to 64 percent of the population gets the virus - 3.2 million New Zealanders.

"They're pretty serious outcomes but they could be worse if the hospital and ICU system doesn't cope," said Professor Nick Wilson, who has informed some of the Government's big decisions on COVID-19.

In the worst-case scenario, there are 27,600 deaths, far more than the number of New Zealanders killed in World War I. A further 36,600 people will need critical ICU care.

That scenario is unlikely - less than a 5 percent chance. But that's still a chance.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield explained how seriously New Zealanders should take the worst-case scenarios.

"Well, they should take them very seriously in the sense that that is what will happen if we weren't being proactive."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, "Even some of the best scenarios paint a very grim picture."

Newshub asked if New Zealand is out of the woods yet, and Ardern said: "No, we're not."

Those behind the modelling say if we fail with our elimination things could get as bad as in Italy or Spain. Our hospitals would be overwhelmed like in Spain where patients are being crammed into every available space.

Hospitals in Spain are being pushed to their limits.
Hospitals in Spain are being pushed to their limits. Photo credit: ITV

"At its worst day, we'd have around 1600 people needing to be in ICU and the current capacity is only a bit over 200 beds," said Otago University Professor Michael Baker.

And as has been the case overseas, the older you are the more likely you are to die.

The death toll would start shooting up at 60. And based on previous pandemics, Maori and Pasifika communities will be disproportionately hurt by COVID-19.

"There's persistent disparities and there's institutional racism for Maori in the current health system, so all of those things form a backdrop to this particular pandemic," said Dr Rawiri McKree Jansen, co-leader of the Maori Pandemic Coordination Group.

The first mini-Parliament sat on Tuesday via Zoom chat for the first Epidemic Response Committee, and after a few technical hiccups, it heard from leading disease expert Sir David Skegg.

"Some, but not all border restrictions would need to continue, until a vaccine becomes available, and that's at least a year away," he said.

He says if elimination is successful, New Zealand may be one of the few countries that can return to relative normalcy.