Govt can't rule out lockdowns for future Covid variants

The Government says it cannot rule out the return of lockdowns as a last resort to combat future Covid variants.

New Covid-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said today that lockdowns and border closures would be a last resort.

"All measures have to be proportionate and justified, in accordance with our laws," she said.

Verrall and Director-general of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield spoke to reporters this afternoon to outline the possible next stages in the pandemic.

Verrall said the virus had continued to evolve since the start of 2020.

"And each variant has had different characteristics."

The minister said she'd asked Bloomfield and health officials to devise strategies to tackle possible future mutations of Covid-19.

"There is a lot of uncertainty and in that context having a highly prescriptive plan can actually be a liability," the minister added.

A new "variants of concern" strategic framework had been developed, Bloomfield said.

The new plan had five scenarios outlining the severity and immune-escape characteristics of various possible variants.

A worst-case scenario would involve a highly transmissible variant also capable of evading immune responses.

Bloomfield said many social groups were consulted when developing the framework.

And he said it was crucial for vulnerable communities to be consulted when devising the new potential virus responses.

Best-case scenarios and disastrous scenarios were anticipated. The rise of Omicron had prompted some of the new research, he said.

"We're not doing any hoping here. We're planning for the best and planning for the worst, and everything in between."

One key scenario anticipated a new variant being even more transmissible than Omicron, Bloomfield said.

"Our response has shifted as we've had different variants," Verrall said.

A short, sharp lockdown of the type used in 2020 was not going to be viable for a variant as transmissible as Omicron, she said.

Verrall said the Delta lockdown in 2021 was necessary. The country at the time had insufficient levels of immunity to avoid lockdowns, she said.

Verrall and Bloomfield addressed media shortly before the latest virus case numbers and hospitalisations were announced.

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