Highly-transmissible Delta variant makes scanning vital: modeller

A leading modeller is reiterating calls for people to continue scanning in using the Covid tracer app after a traveller on a weekend visit to Wellington tested positive upon his return to Sydney.

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University of Canterbury professor Michael Plank says scanning will help avoid another lockdown. Source: Breakfast

The capital went into Alert Level 2 from 6pm on Wednesday through to at least 11.59pm on Sunday.

It’s unknown at this stage if the man contracted the more infectious Delta variant of Covid-19.

Use of the NZ COVID Tracer app has dropped off since March, and often only picks up after a case is found in the community.

University of Canterbury professor Michael Plank told Breakfast it’s not good enough as health authorities need a 14-day record of New Zealanders’ whereabouts.

“It really gives our contact tracers the best chance of getting ahead of this virus and getting it under control without needing a lockdown,” he said.

“Scanning is a really important part of that because it gives them the information they need to get in touch with people; get them into isolation before they have the chance to pass the virus on.”

Plank added that the Delta variant can be even more difficult to trace due to its ability to spread through “very fleeting interactions like we’ve seen in Sydney like people just sort of walking past one another in a shopping mall”.

“Previously, where we would have said, ‘Oh, if you’re just popping into a shop for five minutes, that’s probably pretty low risk,’ we really can’t say that anymore.

“Even if you’re just popping in for a couple of minutes, it’s still really important that you scan in everywhere you go because everywhere is a risk of transmission.”

He added that we have since learned more about the virus since the start of the pandemic.

“It was all about two-metre distancing and that was enough to stop the risk of catching the virus. One of the things we’ve learned is actually, it’s more about shared air space.

“Two-metre distancing is part of that but actually, if you’re sharing the same air that someone else has been breathing, that’s a risk of transmission.”

Plank reiterated reminders for people to scan in to avoid playing catch-up.

“Although we know [the Sydney traveller] visited Wellington, we also know a lot of people were travelling between Wellington and other parts of the country that weekend… so it could be anywhere in the country.

“What I would say is if, you know, the best time to have been scanning was at the weekend; the second best time is now, and so if you’ve got out of the habit of scanning over the last few months - and we know a lot of people have - okay but now is the time to get back into the habit.”