Saturday, November 27

Relaxing Auckland restrictions is a ‘fine balancing act’, but Covid-19 shaper has one caveat

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff believes moving the city to alert level 3 step 2 next week is the right decision, but a leading Covid-19 modeler says the result could be a sizable outbreak throughout the summer.

Central Auckland on Wednesday August 25, 2021 on the eighth day of a Covid-19 lockdown.

Auckland central during the running of the bulls.
Photo: RNZ / John Edens

Yesterday, the Cabinet decided, in principle, to transfer Tāmaki Makaurau to alert level 3, step 2, at 11:59 p.m. next Tuesday.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said Morning report easing restrictions was a “fine balancing act” and he went along with the plan.

On the other hand, Professor Shaun Hendy, a Covid-19 modeler, said that stricter restrictions should be maintained until vaccination rates are higher.

“What the government is balancing, I think, is trying to keep people safe – keeping people from getting sick, preventing the hospital system from being overwhelmed, and also ensuring that the public has ongoing voluntary compliance,” Goff said.

“Because this is not a situation where you can go out and use a police force to force people to comply with the rules, this has to have most of the people on their side and I think most of the Auckland locals are getting to the point where they say, ‘Well look, we have a high vaccination rate, how about a little extra freedom now, let’s see the light at the end of the tunnel?’

“I think the end result for me was the Ashley Bloomfield report that said basically, look, we have high numbers in the community right now … but what we don’t have is that it translates into very high rates of hospitalization, very high. UCI usage rates that would overwhelm the system, and nobody wants to see the kind of scenes we’ve seen around the world in the last year. “

Goff said he had been in contact with the government with his views for Auckland on the changes in alert levels.

“It’s that balancing act. You know I hear what people are saying to me on the ground and what I pick up in Auckland, I think it’s, you know, people have been there 77-78 days, you know there’s a tiredness from it. restrictions.

“There is a concern on the part of retailers that they are on edge and they know they are worried about crashing.

“He’s trying to find that balance, keeping our people as safe as possible while not ignoring the fact that there are mental health pressures, there is stress in companies, stress in jobs, and the need to support people. on the side of what you “. You are doing “.

His advice to the government had been to go down one notch to alert Level 3 to Step 2.

“It shouldn’t be day zero when all of a sudden we hit 90 percent (vaccination) and then all the restrictions are just lifted like this. Let’s progressively move to where it is safe and where it is less risky to do so towards an increasing liberalization of those restrictions, keep the people you know on the side of what we’re trying to do … nobody knows what the perfect balance is, but I think this is correct. “

But Hendy was pessimistic about the changes, he said. Morning report.

“What has been happening so far is that the vaccination program has been going very well, and we are definitely seeing the impacts of that, but we are really relaxing before we see any of those advances in the numbers. I think an A Many of us who are working in modeling would like to see the case numbers decrease before we relax and rather than relax and let the case numbers increase even more. It’s going to be very, very difficult once the numbers increase. of cases, it will take a long time for them to drop, and if we let the case numbers slip away, then we will be dealing with a sizeable outbreak during the summer months.

“We are increasing that R number with relaxing restrictions and trying to reduce it with vaccines at the same time … we are going to continue to see an increase in the number of cases.”

If the situation remained as it was, the number of cases was expected to stabilize between 200 and 300 a day, Hendy said.

“Which is pretty substantial, and it definitely puts pressure on the healthcare system. Now, with these relaxations, we would expect things to be even higher and for those numbers to persist through the Christmas period and into next year.”

“One of the concerns we have is that case numbers like that, we can’t really deal with them through our contact tracking system. Our contact tracking system stays low on the type of case numbers that we are seeing. right now and we will certainly have issues with the kind of case numbers that we might be seeing at the end of the month. So that’s a concern at this stage and it means that yes, we will fight to get these numbers back down in the next few months. . “

Hendy recognized that people wanted a light at the end of the tunnel.

“But the challenge is that the more we relax early, the longer other restraints will have to stay in place. It’s a tough decision, you keep some of those restraints in place for a longer period of time and then at the end, you can relax more. We are facing a situation where we are going to have to maintain some pretty strong restrictions for a long time, because we are easing relatively soon.

“Various experts have been calling all year for programs that Maori target Maori, and that has not happened. That has left Maori vaccination rates lagging. And that puts Maori in a difficult position now as we relax, with low vaccination rates in Maori communities, it puts those communities at greater risk. That is essentially what we are negotiating here. “

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