Saturday, December 4

‘Race Against Time’: Outbreak Must Slow Down to Give Time for More Vaccines: Epidemiologist

The plan for people with Covid-19 to isolate themselves at home suggests that the government believes the spread is wider than previously thought, says epidemiologist Rod Jackson.

Professor Rod Jackson, epidemiologist.

University of Auckland Professor of Epidemiology Rod Jackson Rod Jackson
Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said home quarantine would be introduced “quite soon” as a necessary step to prevent MIQ spaces from being further limited for people coming to New Zealand from abroad.

Auckland University Epidemiology Professor Rod Jackson said the outbreak should be slowed down.

“Last night, there were 75 unrelated cases in Auckland. What that means is there are a lot more cases out there.”

He said the speed of spread of the Delta variant makes this outbreak worse than any previous one.

“I think the government is clearly signaling that MIQ will be overwhelmed, the next thing is that hospitals will be overwhelmed, everything will be overwhelmed.”

“We have to slow down as much as we can.”

There were “huge risks” related to home insulation, he said, “but to me, it suggests that … they believe this problem is much broader than we think.”

“We are in a race against time so that everyone gets vaccinated, we just have to use everything in our power to stop [the outbreak] down as much as possible. “

Jackson said vaccination should be mandatory for more sectors.

“I think it has to be the police, it has to be the supermarkets. The other thing is that companies are clamoring for the license to introduce their own mandates.”

With more than 80 percent of eligible New Zealanders having received at least one dose of vaccine, he said “the tide was turning” against those who were not vaccinated.

Rule breakers

Jackson said he had supported the move to Level 3 for Auckland last month and believed that returning to a period of lockdown of Level 4 could have little effect on case growth.

“Covid is spreading among a group of people who are breaking the rules.

“You can be very hard on them, but you will probably never stop them.”

University of Auckland Associate Professor of Public Health Dr Collin Tukuitonga is skeptical that level 3 had little influence on the outbreak.

“That’s a very narrow view,” he said.

“People who don’t obey the rules are just a subset of the total number of people who are likely to move and spread the virus.

“Yes, these are the people who are most at risk of spreading it, but if you allow people to move more than we did before, you will certainly transmit the virus.

“I don’t see how you can say that level 3 and level 4 have the same risk.”

The drop to level 3 was premature and very risky for Maori and Pasifika, where vaccination rates remain low, he said.

“I put on record that this time weary Aucklanders and business people got the loudest voice, and those of us in public health had a calmer voice.”

The government should be prepared to go back to level 4 if things get really tough, he said.

Home quarantine ‘not for everyone’

Tukuitonga told the Morning Report that home isolation would not be suitable for those living in crowded multigenerational households.

“It’s not for everyone,” he said.

“You have to be very clear about the criteria, you have to have a group of people you can trust to do the right thing, you have to make sure they understand the risks well, the facilities at home have to be up to par.

“It can’t be a small state house with three bedrooms and 12 people.”

Tukuitonga says that anyone isolating themselves at home must understand the risks involved, can be trusted to follow the rules, and have a proper home.

He said some may think the move is risky, but it will have to happen with the increase in cases.

“I know some of my public health colleagues will say ‘absolutely not, this is a very, very risky move,’ but like I say, you have to be pragmatic.

“When we run out of facilities, we have to look for different options.”

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