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New COVID-19 Cases – Expert Reaction

 

Two new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in New Zealand, both linked to international travel.

The two women arrived from the UK together on the 7th of June, and were granted a compassionate exemption from isolation to travel to Wellington on the 13th.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the cases.

Associate Professor Arindam Basu, College of Education, Health & Human Development, University of Canterbury, comments:

"Identification of the two new cases signals the importance of continued testing and contact tracing. The fact that the one of them was "symptom-free" highlights the need for being cautious about asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people.

"Overall, risks of new infections emerging within the community and emergence of clusters still remain low but one cannot be careful enough. This is a reminder that the pandemic is not over and none of us are safe until all of us are safe. So, hand washing, cough hygiene, and as far as practicable, maintaining safe distance and wearing a mask when attending large gatherings and in public transport are useful."

No conflict of interest.

Dr Amanda Kvalsvig, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington, comments:

"These two new cases illustrate very vividly how quickly rules and guidelines can unravel when they collide with real life. We’re now in a situation where potentially hundreds of people have travelled for several hours in an enclosed space with someone who was infectious. There is an enormous amount of ‘mopping up’ to do to make sure that all potential transmission chains have been extinguished. It’s also notable that one of the people who tested positive had no symptoms and might never have known they were infectious if the person with them hadn’t become unwell.

"A situation like this could so easily trigger a major outbreak and take us back to where we were in March. Inevitably, some travellers will have COVID-19 infection and inevitably, some of those will be making the long trip back because they need to be with family at a sad time. There will be more cases like this one in the future.

"The government needs to insist that international travellers wear masks to prevent those who are infectious from breathing virus into the air around them. Mask wearing can’t replace handwashing, isolation, and the other measures but it could make all the difference between a situation we can control, and going back to lockdown."

No conflict of interest.

Professor Michael Baker, Professor of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington, comments:

"These cases are obviously a reminder about the ongoing risk of imported Covid-19 cases. There will be a continuing demand for travel into New Zealand for compassionate and economic reasons. Most inbound travellers are vulnerable to being infected in their home country because of widespread ongoing Covid-19 transmission in most parts of the world.

"New Zealand needs to be confident that all steps in these quarantine processes are robust and scrutinised to ensure that protocols are carefully followed. One important safeguard that does not appear to be routinely used is facemasks. In most countries it would be mandatory to wear facemasks on aircraft, in border and quarantine facilities, and where people are allowed to leave such facilities before their quarantine period has been completed. Mask use provides an important additional line of defence that New Zealand should be using."

No conflict of interest.

Professor Michael Plank, Te Pūnaha Matatini and University of Canterbury, comments:

"The new cases announced today shouldn’t come as a great surprise. With several hundred kiwis returning from overseas each week, it was always likely that we could get new cases at some stage.

"However, the fact that the two people travelled outside their quarantine facility is significant as there is a chance they might have come into contact with others. This reinforces the importance of our contact tracing system and, crucially, everyone keeping a record of where they’ve been and who they’ve been in contact with. Where possible, people should use the NZ COVID tracer app as this means the Ministry of Health will be able to notify them immediately if they’ve visited the same place as someone with COVID-19.

"One of the cases had mild symptoms but put them down to something else. This is a timely reminder not to soldier on with cold or flu symptoms, instead get a test and stay at home until you get the results.

No conflict of interest.

Jacqui Maguire, Registered Clinical Psychologist, comments:

"Whilst many New Zealanders will hopefully calmly respond to this news, there is likelihood anxiety may rise amongst some. With international comparison, fear of hidden community transmission, a second wave and consequential return to lockdown likely to precipitate those fears.

"Anger may also be generated against a permeable border despite current quarantine efforts. It is important that leadership acknowledge anticipated fear whilst re-iterating messages of public safety and the importance of public health guidelines."

No conflict of interest.

Dr Christopher Gale, Senior Lecturer, Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, comments:

"From the mental health perspective, any crisis is a marathon, not a sprint. The event itself and the associated distress, destruction and mortality then is associated with a period of resilience followed by a prolonged increase in anxiety, depression, and trauma related symptoms in a minority of persons. This means that you expect initially that the number of people with mental health problems will decrease in the short term but increase in the medium to long term.

"Most of the knowledge we have, however, is based on short events: for example, earthquakes, forest fires, and terrorist incidents. What we may have now is two more confirmed cases of an illness many had thought was eradicated from New Zealand.

"This could lead to people being more anxious, and having more symptoms: for others, it could lead to a sense of betrayal that the pain our society has suffered was wasted.

"What we may find is that people are less trustful and less willing to adhere to a return to social distancing. The long term economic consequences from the lockdown are beginning. People are fearful of a loss of occupation, income and purpose. For many, this is not a fear, this is reality. Regaining an agreement as a society to social distancing, if that happens, will be a greater challenge now that the celebration of no cases is moderated by people from other countries being documented with the virus."

No conflict of interest.

Professor Mick Roberts, Professor in Mathematical Biology, Massey University, comments:

"Now we are in level one, the value of R is well above one. That means that any community transmission could result in the onset of a large epidemic, and a return to lockdown. To prevent this: test, trace and isolation is more important than ever."

No conflict of interest.

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