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"I'm a bit concerned that we're starting to talk about getting out of lockdown," Associate Prof Brian Cox said yesterday.
He was worried about growing discussion of exit strategies, given that New Zealand was only about half-way through the planned four-week lockdown.
All countries still lacked a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
"It's extremely serious, if you look at places like New York."
"We need to help each other to stay the course.
"That's a huge challenge — we've got to help everyone — just hang in together."
If New Zealand could stay the course and eliminate the disease, it would bring big long-term economic and trade advantages, if other countries continued to struggle with Covid-19, Prof Cox said.
"There's a potential economic advantage down the track if we can get on top of it now," he said.
Having a strong contact tracing system, able to trace the contacts of infected people extensively and quickly, was also important for the future.
An eventual exit from the Level 4 lockdown would have to be carried out "in a strategic and very careful manner".
All of the country had been placed in Level 4, but beyond the current lockdown, various regions and areas were likely to be subject to different levels’ restrictions.
Those could depend on their recent infection record and their relative vulnerability, such as having many retired residents.
Some areas could go to Level 3 while some other higher risk areas might continue at Level 4.
Some regions of the country, such as Tairawhiti — the Gisborne area in the North Island — and possibly parts of the West Coast, could be candidates to have lower levels of restriction after the lockdown if they had low rates of infection, given their relative geographical isolation.
If some areas were able to operate more normally, they would begin to help other areas of the country because of the importance of the rural economy, he said.
Queenstown was a more complex case because of high previous infection rates, the presence of many retired people, and further difficulties if overseas air links were to be resumed.
Prof Cox said he was was also keen for New Zealand to adopt a new and quicker antibody test, provided it was sufficiently robust and accurate, to complement existing testing and to help provide improved monitoring of the disease history of more people.