As so it begins. The first country declares “elimination” success. Today New Zealand announces the effective elimination of coronavirus. Soon hopefully other countries can join and rebuild the “Virus Free Zone” – and the borders that surround them will expand as the infected zone shrinks.
Theirs was a very strict lockdown. Beaches, playgrounds, schools, businesses and restaurants closed. Not even takeaway sales.
New Zealand says it has stopped community transmission of Covid-19, effectively eliminating the virus.
With new cases in single figures for several days – one on Sunday – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the virus was “currently” eliminated.
But officials have warned against complacency, saying it does not mean a total end to new coronavirus cases.
The news comes hours before New Zealand is set to move out of its toughest level of social restrictions.
The shift down to level 3 restrictions means things are still pretty strict:
Level 3 will see retailers, restaurants and schools allowed to reopen on a smaller scale. Schools will reopen on Wednesday for children up to Year 10 who cannot study from home, or whose parents need to return to work.
Workers will also be able to resume on-site work, provided they have a Covid-19 control plan in place, with appropriate health and safety and physical distancing measures. It is expected one million New Zealanders will return to work on Tuesday. — The Guardian
Almost no medical experts are even discussing elimination as a possibility. NZ may be the only land where they did:
New Zealand’s Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the low number of new cases in recent days “does give us confidence that we have achieved our goal of elimination”.
He warned that “elimination” did not mean there would be no new cases, “but it does mean we know where our cases are coming from.
For a scientific advisor, it’s safer to be a cynic and aim low, but the price of not even discussing elimination — with all its benefits — is to misinform business and demotivate the people that governments were asking so much from. The talk of inevitable long lockdowns “for six to 12 months” played havoc with policy and business planning.
Many unambitious advisors were using old 1918 flu plans. They talked of flattening the curve, but they have not admitted it was a devastating long slow bleed and impossible policy, and they’ve ended up Crushing the Curve instead as predicted here. They still call it “flattening the curve” but it is a very different strategy to what they originally suggested.
And yet most countries treated COVID-19 as if it were influenza, he said, trying to slow its advance rather than eradicate it. Nations including the UK and the US opted for such mitigation and suppression efforts after they found themselves overwhelmed by cases.
The man who should get the credit is Professor Michael Baker who had brave ambition and saw an opportunity because this was not the flu:
Australian Financial Review
Central to New Zealand’s approach is a scientific fact that most Western leaders appear to have ignored, according to Michael Baker, a professor at the University of Otago’s Department of Public Health in Wellington who sits on the government’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group. That is that the virus usually has a mean incubation period of five to six days, twice as long as influenza, and could be as many as 14 days.
“That means that when someone gets sick, if you isolate them quickly and round up their contacts, you can quarantine those people and interrupt that chain of transmission,” Professor Baker said. “With influenza you can’t really do that because by the time you’ve found their contacts it’s too late, they’ve infected other people.”
Even two weeks ago Australia’s chief medical officer did not seem to think eradication was possible:
Brendan Murphy, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, told a New Zealand parliamentary committee on April 14 that eradicating the virus was a “nirvana” scenario.
Keeping the virus out means strict borders and two week mandatory quarantines until there is a treatment or vaccine and the virus becomes a nicer mutant.
If the NZ model succeeds it will become a tantalizing option to follow for any country that can afford it. If nations adopt mass masks and treat Vitamin D deficiency, pandemic control can probably be even cheaper than the NZ model. Watch the world start to copy (if they are lucky enough to be able to).
New Zealand, around 5 million people, has only Covid-19 1,500 cases, and only 19 deaths so far.
We can ask if they could have done it cheaper, but it’s clear it was a success.
Australia allowed more business activity to continue, and has similar deaths per million (even slightly fewer) and will hopefully reach elimination soon too. It may be that extra sunlight, more space and a lower population density meant it didn’t have to go as hard. Time will tell which nation recovers faster economically.
There will be PhD’s worth of work in unpacking the factors and costs, but “Go Hard, Go Early” and Aim High was not only realistic but probably the best way to deal with any mysterious, deadly new virus. Defeatism is so uninspiring.