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Why the recent rise in Covid-19 cases doesn’t necessarily mean another lockdown is coming

As the number of Covid-19 cases rises again in New Zealand, it's sparked fears of a second wave and concerns whether another lockdown is imminent.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield Source: Getty

But there's a key difference between the recent rise in cases and the lead-up to Alert Level 4 back in March.

The four-tier alert system had only been in place for a short period before March 23, when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country would move into Level 4 just 48 hours later.

The country had 102 active cases, with 36 confirmed on the same day the lockdown was announced.

Crucially, that day saw the first confirmed case of community transmission. 

Ms Ardern hit the red button; 48 hours later, New Zealand was at Level 4.

Now, three months later, the spread of transmission has slowed. A full week passed without any active cases at all, before two new cases were revealed last Monday.

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In the intervening days, another seven cases were announced and there are now nine confirmed Covid-19 cases in New Zealand.

All but two of them remain in quarantine or managed isolation; the remaining pair are in self-isolation with a family member.

Despite the rise in cases, that doesn't necessarily mean the country needs to brace for another lockdown.

INCREASED TESTING AND ISOLATION

With all of the current cases in Government-managed isolation or quarantine already, diagnosed during their 14-day waiting period before they could fully re-enter the country, it severely impacts the chance of the virus spreading around the nation.

Testing has been ramped up at those facilities, now requiring everyone to be tested on their 12th day in the facility - before they leave - regardless of symptoms.

That increased testing is targeting people who are likely to have contracted the virus overseas, even if they're not displaying any symptoms.

Despite that, Ms Ardern and the Ministry of Health are pointing to simply the arrival numbers as the reason the numbers have suddenly gone up.

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The Prime Minister reiterated the importance of quarantine protocols for those coming into the country. Source: Breakfast

"We have had a doubling of the number of people in the last month coming back to New Zealand - so 4200 currently in facilities," she told Breakfast this morning.

"That is twice what we had a month ago and we are seeing travel able to be undertaken from higher risk countries."

As New Zealand citizens, those people have a right to come home, Ms Ardern says.

She says the chance New Zealand's case number keeps increasing is "very, very high".

COMMUNITY TRANSMISSION IS KEY

Increasing case numbers are only part of the reasoning behind moving up alert levels.

Under the public guidelines available on the Unite For Recovery website, a shift to Level 4 would require widespread outbreaks, new clusters and community transmission.

Community transmission refers to cases where the source can't be identified from overseas or a known case.

None of the above is currently happening, with all known cases already in isolation and not in the community.

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"[In the time] when we've been using managed isolation, we have not seen any further infections as a result of people in managed isolation," Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said yesterday.

That's despite issues where people meant to be isolating have reportedly mingled with members of the public.

Dr Bloomfield says they still have the capacity to do more than 12,000 Covid-19 tests a day if required.

ALERT LEVEL 1 - PREPARE

The public guidelines for Alert Level 1 say there's the possibility for isolated household transmission, and that Covid-19 is still raging overseas.

The border isolation and testing is a key part of making sure imports Covid-19 cases don't spread, according to the guidelines.

Level 2 means there's a risk of community transmission, but the disease is still contained, meanwhile Level 3 says there "might" be community transmission occurring.

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The man was pulled from a transfer flight at the last minute. Source: 1 NEWS

While the Ministry of Health did not respond to questions from 1 NEWS today, based on those public guidelines it's likely the tipping point remains the same as it did in March: widespread outbreaks, multiple new clusters and community transmission occurring.