A public health expert has said New Zealand’s response to its coronavirus outbreak this week “shows what working public health looks like.”
New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland was placed under lockdown for at least 12 more days this morning, after the number of new cases in a cluster detected this week rose to 29.
That came after the country enjoyed more than 100 days without a community-transmitted case.
This morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Auckland would remain on Alert Level 3 for another 12 days while the rest of the country stays at Level 2 – which involves standard social distancing guidelines.
Dr Anthony Staines, Professor of Health Systems at DCU, has long called for Ireland to emulate New Zealand’s policy of eliminating the virus from the island to allow for a full reopening of the economy.
On The Hard Shoulder this evening, he said the country’s response to this latest setback points to the way forward for other island nations.
“New Zealand shows what working public health looks like,” he said.
“They managed to bring the virus down to zero and they kept it there. They have had an outbreak and they have now had to close down one city but the rest of the country is still largely open, so that is really the desired state.
“The virus is going to be around the world for some time to come whatever we do in our own country and we have to show that we can cope if it is reimported – and New Zealand has shown the way to do this.”
Professor Staines said Ireland has two options for tackling the virus moving forward – continuing to try and keep things at a low level or eliminating it all together.
“It doesn’t look like as if we can keep this virus at a very low level which is what the Government was hoping to do,” he said.
“But that is really difficult to do. That is like walking a tightrope and if you fall off the tightrope it can be a very long way down.”
He said there is a real risk current policy will lead to rolling lockdowns around the country for the foreseeable future.
“That is the risk,” he said. “If you are businessman in County Donegal are you going to put in the investment if you could suddenly be told actually, ‘I’m sorry lads and ladies we are closing your county for two weeks, three weeks, four week, five weeks however many weeks it takes, at any time?
“I think rolling lockdowns are really the worst of all possible outcomes for most people and certainly for the business community.
“If we could get the virus down to zero, we could do things like have rugby matches and GAA matches. We could have the normal things of everyday life.”
He said certain businesses like nightclubs would likely have to remain closed in either scenario but insisted that, if we could get the virus down to zero, “much of everyday life could come back to normal and that is what we would like to see.”
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