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Covid-19: Auckland needs 'slightly more cautious' approach at Level 1, expert says

New Zealand's only remaining cluster of Covid-19 cases looks to have been stamped out after having just one new case linked to it in two weeks.

Woman wearing face mask in Auckland (file picture). Source: istock.com

Its origin remains unknown but Alert Level 1 beckons for Auckland.

Health and data researchers say we're looking good, but Level 1 should come with strings attached.

In the last two weeks there have been eight community cases, and none in any of the last four days.

Public health professor Nick Wilson said the drop in cases was a success story for health authorities and the New Zealand public.

"The situation is looking very good for Auckland. It's looking like there'll be downward adjustments to alert levels when they're next reviewed," Wilson said.

"We really are heading strongly back to the whole country being Covid-free."

He said the Auckland cluster was all but wrapped up, with just one new case in the last two weeks.

"It's really looking like it's tied up and that's fantastic. There's always a small chance that the next week may see a case but I'd say that's looking pretty unlikely now."

He said more positive tests could come from a separate outbreak originating on a charter flight that has spawned six cases so far, but he's also confident that's been well contained.

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The main Auckland cluster, with 179 cases, was easily the biggest the country's faced, almost twice as big as any other.

Three people died - former Cook Islands Prime Minister and prominent doctor Joe Williams and brothers Alan and Nigel Te Hiko - and most cases were in the Pacific community.

Dr Collin Tukuitonga of Auckland University said the fact it didn't spread further was a triumph of teamwork.

"Pacific church leaders, Pacific community leaders, healthcare providers, social support providers, Pacific radio networks all came together and did a good job to try limit the spread to not only protect the Pacific community but protect everyone," Tukuitonga said.

Auckland University data modeller Professor Shaun Hendy said he worries that Level 1 isn't strong enough to prevent another outbreak of Covid.

Professor Shaun Hendy. Source: 1 NEWS

"I think we can certainly think about reducing alert levels, but I think I'm still uncomfortable about Level 1 in the long run, because we see these cases making it through the border a couple of times a month. That puts us at risk of another Auckland-like cluster," Hendy said.

"I think in the long-term we need to be slightly more cautious than Alert Level 1."

He's after a Level 1 point something - a stance Dr Nick Wilson thinks would be prudent, at least short term.

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"Some upper limits on indoor event sizes - maybe a 200 limit for another few weeks to be absolutely sure - and probably continuing with mask use on public transport."

Wilson said the country's digital technology to help with contact tracing - such as Bluetooth or using telecoms data - was still way behind other countries. He said improving tracing technology could help avoid a future lockdown.

The government will make a decision about Auckland moving to Level 1 on Monday. If it goes ahead with an easing of restrictions, it would take effect from next Thursday morning.

rnz.co.nz