Before lockdown, NZ was on trajectory 'closer to Italy than we'd like', epidemiologist says

Before the Government's decision to put the nation into coronavirus lockdown, early figures suggested New Zealand was on track to follow in Italy's tragic footsteps, according to an epidemiologist. 

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Epidemiologist Brian Cox says the country showed similar characteristics to Italy's outbreak. Source: Breakfast

Dr Brian Cox from University of Otago says the early stages of our Covid-19 epidemic had rolled out in a similar way to Europe's then-coronavirus epicentre, which has recorded more than 27,000 deaths. 

"In fact, it had some characteristics that are more similar to Italy than we would like," he told TVNZ1's Breakfast today. 

Dr Cox says without taking strict measures like New Zealand has, the country would have been recording triple digit case numbers each day.

"If we had delayed the lockdown for a further week, we would have been up around well over 100 cases a day. And that would have become impossible to do contact tracing," he explains. 

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Italy is the worst hit country with at least 23,000 coronavirus deaths. Source: Breakfast

While the country has recorded only a handful of confirmed cases for the past few days, we still aren't out of the woods, according to Dr Cox. 

He says other countries like Singapore had initially done well with their containment of coronavirus but it wasn't until measures were relaxed that things worsened. 

Dr Cox also discouraged a move to expand New Zealand's borders to create a 'trans-Tasman bubble' too soon. While he likes Australians, he "wouldn't want to go hug Australia right now", he explained.  

Both nations have both been praised in world media for their effort to eliminate the virus. On Breakfast yesterday, Opposition Leader Simon Bridges suggested New Zealand should model its response to be more like Australia's. 

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The Opposition Leader said the Government needs to flatten the curve without flattening the economy. Source: Breakfast

But Australia's outbreak started earlier than New Zealand's, something which Dr Cox believes makes it harder to compare how the two countries have handled their outbreaks. 

"Their epidemic started sooner than ours and they’ve had longer to do something about it," he said. "The features of their epidemic are a little different than ours, so you can’t compare directly."

He says New Zealand needs to focus on eradicating the virus in order to be considered safe from the threat of the virus mutating like the Spanish flu pandemic a century ago, when the second wave of the virus was a lot worse.