Govt's COVID-19 modelling expert warns New Zealand 'can't afford' to reach Italy's crisis level

The expert who has informed the Government's big decisions on COVID-19 warns if we don't comply with the lockdown, New Zealand risks being as bad as Italy and Spain. 

"People are dying on the floors in hospitals in Italy [and] bodies are building up in ice skating rinks for storage in Spain," Professor Nick Wilson told Newshub.

Professor Wilson has completed most of the modelling relied on by the Government. 

He says countries like Spain and Italy have higher quality health systems than New Zealand, and that we simply can't afford for it to get as bad. 

He said if that's happening in those countries "then there's a risk it will happen here". 

When Newshub asked if he's able to say if New Zealand has avoided the worst-case scenario, Wilson replied: "No. If we ease up on controls, for example if people start breaking their bubbles and leaving their homes, this epidemic will just take off." 

Wellington's Oriental Bay was crowded on Sunday afternoon on day-four of the coronavirus lockdown, and it has prompted a stern response from the government.

"It did surprise me how many people were out and about and I observed a number of people who weren't keeping their social distance," Police Commissioner Mike Bush said on Monday.

The Police Commissioner drove past Oriental Bay on Sunday, and said he wasn't impressed, so is now eyeing up greater enforcement by police.

"If people aren't complying we're going to have to revisit this." 

Newshub asked Bush if police should be doing more to disperse people if they congregate like that, and he replied: "Yes, absolutely, that's what we're considering."

Even if it's within the rules, the advice is to keep your distance, or if it's too busy in your neighbourhood, stay home.

"If we didn't do that, thousands of New Zealanders would die. It's as simple as that," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday. 

And so New Zealand must make sacrifices. In extreme sacrifices, it could mean cancelled funerals, tangi, weddings, and less support with new-borns.

"For anyone else who's flouting the rules, think about those who are sacrificing a huge amount right now to make sure they're saving the lives of other people," Ardern said.

After 10 days in lockdown New Zealand will learn if it's been working, and the best data comes from testing for the virus.

Newshub asked Professor Wilson if New Zealand needs to be testing more, and he said: "I would say absolutely, yes."

He said testing is "absolutely critical" and thinks New Zealand "has been a bit slow to ramp up its testing capacity".

The Government is releasing Professor Wilson's modelling on Tuesday.