NZ 'highly vulnerable' to new Covid-19 outbreak as protective measures dwindle

Rob Fyfe, who’s the liaison between business and Government, says New Zealand is "highly vulnerable" to a new outbreak of Covid-19.

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Mr Fyfe was appointed as liaison between Government and business as New Zealand went into lockdown in March. Source: 1 NEWS

Speaking at the 'Auckland’s Future, Now' event this morning, the former Air New Zealand CEO said knowledge of the coronavirus has changed dramatically since the beginning of the year, but he fears complacency could be a downfall.

Mr Fyfe praised the "great building blocks" New Zealand has put in place - a stringent lockdown, highly compliant population and resolute leadership from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

"We have eliminated the virus and we're approaching 100 days with no community transmission. I mean, where else in the world would you want to live right now?"

However, loosening restrictions may be leaving a gap in New Zealand's protection.

"We have no social distancing requirements, no restrictions on movements and gatherings, we have no masks, hand hygiene is largely progressing back to what it was before Covid, our contact tracing app is completely ineffective and our testing levels are now at one of the lowest levels in the OECD," Mr Fyfe said today.

"I guess you could say none of which really matters as long as we don't have Covid. But the paradox is we are now highly vulnerable to a new incursion of the virus across our boarder.

"A single super-spreader that gets across our border could easily infect a few hundred people several days before they are ultimately tested and identified to be carrying the virus."

Mr Fyfe said those infected people could have gone on to infect several others each, with contact tracers racing to track down tens of thousands of people linked to one incursion.

"Most likely, in my view, it would fail and we would have a Melbourne-style lockdown across Auckland and the gateway between New Zealand and the world will be shut," he said.

"We cannot afford to squander our hard-fought-for elimination status.

"I would therefore argue that the number one priority is to build rapid testing, rapid tracing and self-isolation systems that will enable us to combat an incursion and keep out community safe without having to lock down 1.5 million healthy people here in Auckland when the next outbreak occurs."

Mr Fyfe said the constantly evolving science and uncertainty about the future of the virus were the biggest challenges ahead.

"We need to create a living plan and a road map that can be continuously adjusted as new information comes to light," he said.