Border ban not needed, researchers say

The Government should avoid banning people entering New Zealand from specific countries where there may be variants of the virus that causes Covid-19, Dunedin researchers say.

McAuley chair of international health Philip Hill and Associate Professor of epidemiology Brian Cox said their view was supported by the reality that the vast majority of countries, including the United States, did not test for such variants.

In an opinion article published by Newsroom, the academics said New Zealand should avoid banning people, based on the presence of the UK or other known variants, given that so little sequencing was done elsewhere in the world.

"We do not actually know where this variant originated from," they said.

It could well have been imported into the UK, and not evolved there.

"Therefore, we need to be suspicious of any strain from anywhere."

They had reviewed data from the UK and it pointed to a real increase in transmissibility — most likely between 10% and 70% — of at least one variant of the virus that caused Covid-19.

However, the UK sequenced the virus from less than 10% of all Covid-19 cases, and not the at least 50% needed to ensure the overall data was accurate.

The UK and South Africa should not be singled out as having variant strains, and there were "almost certainly" more such variants around the world, but still unidentified.

The best thing for New Zealand was to select "the very best vaccine" with a high efficacy against infection and disease, and which gave the virus "little wriggle room on how it mutates to produce varieties that are more transmissible".

Even if it was more costly, New Zealand should invest in a vaccine that had 95% efficacy against the virus rather than one with 60% efficacy.

"We do worry about the pathogen being able to take advantage of that in some way, " Prof Hill said yesterday.

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