The broad political and public consensus on eliminating Covid-19 has shown signs of wavering this week as Auckland stares down its longest-ever stretch in hard lockdown.
Authorities are confident that Level Four has stamped out ‘widespread’ community transmission but three clusters are still growing and several mystery cases remain unexplained.
RNZ spoke to a range of politicians, scientists, modellers, and officials and asked: is it time to double-down or change tack?
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister
“Alert Level Four is working. It has helped us to get the outbreak under control. But we have not quite finished the job yet.”
David Seymour ACT Party leader
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. If we can’t get this outbreak under control with four weeks of Level Four, are we certain that it will be under control after five? And if we can’t get it under control after five weeks, will we to Six? People will go broke in the meantime. The alternative is a holding pattern – a kind of Level 2 or Level 3 that allows businesses to operate somewhat sustainably – while we wait for vaccination rates to be high enough to abandon lockdowns.”
Chris Bishop, National Party
“Once we give up on elimination, we can never go back… I do not believe that we are in that position just yet.
Ashley Bloomfield, Director-General of Health
“The lockdown is working. The testing is at a good level, people are doing what is asked of them, and it is really only a small number of cases that we are investigating very thoroughly just to make sure there is no ongoing community transmission. Our view and our advice is that another week in lockdown in Alert Level 4 in Auckland gives us our best chance to really finish the job off here.”
Michael Baker, Public Health Professor
“People have to think about the consequences of having the virus circulating widely in the country. Auckland would be sticking, at best, at Alert Level 3. Our health system cannot cope with an intense pandemic wave. It is not simply, “Oh, we can go back to celebrating our freedoms in some sort of Promised Land. It is not like that at all.”
Rod Jackson, Epidemiology Professor
“We can knock it on the head if people follow the rules, but people aren’t following the rules.
Shaun Hendy, Covid-19 Modeller
“We were not sure going into this outbreak how well Alert Level Four would work against Delta, but we have seen it work very effectively. The alternative is staying at Alert Level Three for a very long time, well into next year, on top of what would be a healthcare emergency.”
Rodney Jones, Economist
“No one else has done what we are trying to do now. Let us hope that we can get back to elimination, but in a few days…”
Siouxsie Wiles, Microbiologist
“We just need to mop up these little transmission chains and then we can get back down the Alert Levels. This is really hard, but … just look at New South Wales. That is the alternative. Hospitals full of patients and lots of people really sick and dying.”
Graham Le Gros, Immunologist
“This is only one event that got across the border and look at the mayhem – one-month lockdown, a billion dollars a week – that is just not sustainable in the long term…”
Craig McCulloch is Deputy Political Editor at Radio New Zealand. The above story has been published under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz
Editor’s Note: While the views vary, New Zealanders and Aucklander in particular are extremely weary of the current lockdown restrictions. Businesses in Auckland are shut down, and although the rest of New Zealand is at a lower level, the national economy will remain paralysed until the biggest city gets back on its feet. We hope that it would be sooner than later.