Leading epidemiologist Michael Baker says pausing quarantine-free travel from New South Wales and shifting Wellington’s alert level is “absolutely essential” because of the “potential for this outbreak to turn to a super-spreading event”.
A visit from Sydney of a person later confirmed to have Covid-19 has seen the capital move to Alert Level 2 this evening until at least Sunday.
If the traveller is confirmed to have the highly-infectious Delta variant, Baker said, “on the face of it, this could be the worst-case scenario”.
“They spent the whole weekend in indoor venues and literally have contact with thousands of people. So, this can cause huge amounts of transmission of the virus. That’s a big threat,” Baker said.
Genome sequencing is still underway for the Covid-19 case.
He said New Zealand had to learn some lessons from this latest situation.
“We need to upgrade our alert level system so it makes mask use much clearer for people when we have an outbreak situation,” Baker said.
This was important because, overseas, the virus was spreading in crowded, indoor environments through aerosol transmission, he said.
“At the moment, it’s not clear how masks should be used far more extensively.”
Baker said scanning QR codes should be made mandatory in high-risk environments like bars, restaurants, crowded functions and tourist hotspots.
“I think a lot of our policy settings are from last year … when the virus was different.
“The virus has changed and we need to change our approaches to keep ahead of it. We are behind in terms of our knowledge of how this virus is transmitted mainly as an aerosol.”
He said the Government also needed to be “more cautious” when considering trans-Tasman travel bubble settings.
For example, this may mean pre-travel Covid-19 testing should be introduced if an outbreak was evolving in Australia, he said.