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University of Canterbury modeller Prof Michael Plank is working with the Ministry of Health along with other researchers at Te Punaha Matatini on showing how quickly Covid-19 could spread once borders were opened up to travellers and restrictions were lifted.
Modelling showed even with high vaccination rates, opening up could still lead to deaths and cases on a scale New Zealand is yet to experience.
‘‘The modelling shows that if vaccination rates are in the 70s or low 80s [%] in the eligible population, a large-scale outbreak could still threaten our health service capacity and lead to tens of thousands of hospitalisations and thousands of deaths.
‘‘If we can get into the 90s, the threat will be much smaller and could be limited to a more manageable number of hospitalisations with some additional public health measures,’’ Prof Plank said.
The ominous scenarios came as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this week said the Government had no intention of using lockdowns long-term against Covid-19 and as the Ministry of Health planned for how to manage the virus in a post-lockdown environment.
Prof Plank said the pandemic was not over for New Zealand yet and there were challenging times ahead.
‘‘So far New Zealand has enjoyed one of the lowest rates of Covid-19 in the world.
‘‘Once we open up, it’s very likely we will see more cases than we have in the past and these will inevitably lead to hospitalisations and deaths.’’
To protect themselves people needed to get vaccinated, as unvaccinated sections of the population would be at very high risk of catching Covid-19 when borders opened.
‘‘The higher vaccination rates we can get, the easier it will become to manage these outbreaks and the less we’ll have to rely on lockdowns.’’
The Ministry of Health was expected to soon present Health Minister Andrew Little with a strategy that will show what the health system could look like if the virus was not handled by lockdowns.
New measures could include home-based care for people with Covid-19 to reduce strain on hospitals.
The new strategy was tipped to be presented to Mr Little in the next three to four weeks.
Yesterday morning, Mr Little said the way to avoid putting pressure on the health system was to get vaccination numbers up throughout the population.
But even with a highly vaccinated population with the borders open, the number of Covid-19 cases would still go up.
Having 80% of the population vaccinated was one figure officials were looking at, as other countries had reached that vaccination rate.
The Government wanted to do better than that and was keen to reach a target ‘‘right up into the 90s’’.
— Additional reporting The New Zealand Herald