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One described it as playing "Russian roulette" with people’s lives.
University of Otago academics public medicine specialist Associate Prof Brian Cox, epidemiologist Prof David Skegg and virologist Prof Miguel Quinones-Mateu have warned against a "Plan B" proposal to move into a much less restricted Level 2 lockdown, once the current four-week lockdown was over.
The Level 2 proposal was put forward by Dr Simon Thornley, an Auckland University senior lecturer in epidemiology, and other academics in Auckland and at Victoria University of Wellington.
"It would be a huge gamble with a lot of consequences if you were wrong," Prof Cox said.
"If we get it wrong we could be talking about thousands of extra deaths," he said.
Prof Skegg told the epidemic response committee yesterday it would be dangerous if Cabinet made a lockdown decision without first vastly improving rapid contact-tracing and collecting more information about Covid-19 in vulnerable communities.
New Zealand should be able to trace close contacts for all new cases within two to three days — which is Australia’s current capacity — as well as having surveillance testing not only up and running, but completed by the end of this week.
"If the answer to those questions is no, I would submit that we’re asking the Cabinet to play Russian roulette with the health of New Zealanders," he said.
Prof Cox favoured the more cautious approach promoted by the Government, of potentially moving to Level 3, but was against the "Plan B" proposal, which suggested much freer internal travel and would allow gatherings of up to 100 people.
The recent Bluff wedding case, which had resulted in about 87 cases of coronavirus infection and one death, showed it was too early to relax restrictions at the end of the month-long lockdown.
Immediately after the lockdown, gatherings of more than 10 people could still pose risks of spreading the disease, he said.
Great care was needed to manage matters correctly, and he noted there had already been high coronavirus infection rates in the Queenstown area.
Dr Thornley said prolonged lockdown was "likely to cause greater harm than the virus to the nation’s long-term health and wellbeing, social fabric, economy and education".
Data showed most Covid-19 fatalities internationally had occurred in people because of "comorbidities rather than directly from the virus", the northern group said.
Prof Cox disagreed with the group’s suggestion that, even in Italy, only 12% of deaths had been directly due to Covid-19.
Despite their other underlying medical conditions, including diabetes, many of the older Italian people who had died could have expected to live for another 10 or 20 years, had it not been for the coronavirus outbreak, he said.
Prof Quinones-Mateu said New Zealand should "be careful", moving first to Level 3.
— Additional reporting New Zealand Herald