As Covid-19 variants spread rapidly overseas, modeller warns NZ’s 2021 remains ‘difficult’

As much as Kiwis would like to leave the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, a leading modeller warns New Zealand needs to continue being vigilant.

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Auckland University’s Shaun Hendy says Kiwis need to remain vigilant to keep the virus out of the community. Source: Breakfast

“We need to assume 2021 is also going to be a difficult year,” Auckland University professor and modeller Shaun Hendy said.

Hendy said people only needed to look overseas, where case numbers and fatalities continue to remain “quite high” through the northern hemisphere’s winter season.

But, he said, he was hopeful things would improve in the summer if governments took “effective action”.

“I think one of the things that New Zealand has shown the world [is] that if you do respond strongly with tight restrictions … eliminate the virus within your own borders, then that’s a very effective way of fighting the disease.”

He was also optimistic the rollout of vaccines “should make a difference” and help to mitigate high death tolls.

As other variants of Covid-19 spread overseas, New Zealand is also likely to see them locally, Hendy said.

He said community transmission of highly transmissible variants could have devastating effects, as seen overseas.

“It does increase the rate of which the disease spreads, makes it harder to contain, but it also brings you into this position where it can quickly overwhelm your health care system,” Hendy said of the UK variant of the coronavirus, which he estimated to be about 50 per cent more transmissible.

He said the new Covid-19 variants mean New Zealand needs to “continually” assess its border restrictions.

Hendy acknowledged there are many Kiwis that are stuck in difficult situations overseas.

“We do have a responsibility to look after them. On the other hand, we are going to have to manage our border facilities well to reduce the risk.

“That may mean reducing the numbers of people coming through the border.”

He urged people to continue scanning QR codes with the Covid Tracer App to assist contact tracers in the event of a community outbreak.