Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern all but conceded yesterday that New Zealand would come out of the level four lockdown at midnight on April 22.
Barring an explosion of locally transmitted cases, the clear trends here are for a tapering off in the rate of increase of cases.
The further we get from the closure of the borders on March 25 that should be expected to continue to trend down.
Ardern is expecting the advice which should confirm the decision to go to three later this week.
“I also expect this week to receive further advice from the Ministry of Health and my chief science adviser and others on the evidence base needed to have confidence that we do have the virus under control and therefore can move with certainty out of level four and the measures that will need to be placed at level three to ensure we’re preventing any risk of flu outbreaks,” she said.
What is giving her that expectation is the way the daily rate of increase continues to bob around 10 per cent.
So even though yesterday’s 89 new cases was the highest equal with April 2, the percentage increase was only 9.37%.
All up, New Zealand now has 1039 cases — a figure that compares favourably with similarly sized countries. (The figures in this table are from the latest WHO Situation Report on April 4)
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What is striking about that table is how the non-European countries; Singapore, New Zealand and Australia are so far recording much lower infection and death rates than Europe.
Ardern said we had the benefit of time to put measures in place once we saw what was happening in Europe, and we acted a lot faster once COVID-19 was established here.
“New analysis by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade shows we closed our borders. Twenty-five days after our first case; Germany took 49 days. Spain 52. Australia 55, Singapore 61,” she said.
“Our first economic package was in place 18 days after the first case.
“Most countries took more than 40 days.
“Ours was six per cent of GDP bigger at the time than the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, China, Korea and Japan, Japan and on par with Canada.
“Our case rate and the death toll is well below other comparable countries.
“Yes, we had the benefit of time because our distance and because our early border and mass gathering measures also have made a difference there.
“But we had the benefit of a window of opportunity with the benefit of witnessing a terrible trajectory overseas,” she said.
Ardern appeared to address a column by Matthew Hooton in the NZ Herald on Friday which suggested that sooner or later the Government would have to make a choice between more deaths and the economy.
“I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again no matter what it is you favour the solution is the same; fight the virus,” she said.
“A strategy that sacrifices people in favour of supposedly a better economic outcome is a false dichotomy and has been shown to produce the worst of both worlds loss of life and prolonged economic pain. “
Ardern quoted “research available” on the Spanish flu which underlined her point.
That research is presumably a paper published last week by three New York Federal Reserve researchers which showed that areas that were more severely affected by the 1918 Flu Pandemic saw a sharp and persistent decline in real economic activity.
“We find that cities that implemented early and extensive non-pharmaceutical interventions suffered no adverse economic effects over the medium term,” they said.
“On the contrary, cities that intervened earlier and more aggressively experienced a relative increase in real economic activity after the pandemic subsided.”
Meanwhile, Ardern has set out the additional information she needs before a final decision will be made on whether to end the level four lockdown.
“I think we’re looking at what’s happening with community transmission and also at the success of contact tracing for our clusters,” she said.
“All of that information will tell us whether or not we have got control back of COVID-19 in New Zealand and whether we’re in a position, then to move to different alert levels.
“I’m wanting to dig deeper into some of what we need to be looking for.
“That’s where I’ve asked the Ministry of Health alongside our experts and those in the science field to help dig deeper into the criteria we need to use as a country to have confidence when we move levels “
Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has also been talking about the road ahead for his country.
“We are now in a place where we’re seeking to put the pressure down on constraining this virus in Australia,” he told a press conference on Friday.
“We then need to look at the recovery phase, which is beyond.”
And in a hint of what might be in store for New Zealand, Morrison hinted that phase might last six months.
“We’ve talked about six month periods, and that is true,” he said.
“They’re not a guarantee; it could be longer.
“We pray it’s shorter, but a six month period should give people a good indication of what they have to ready themselves in terms of the changes they’re making in their daily lives.”
Morrison and Ardern are talking (in his words) “every other day” so it is likely that the thinking on how long restrictions might last will be much the same on both sides of the Tasman.
That would mean New Zealand was still under some form of restrictions, particularly at the border, until October.
That raises questions about the election planned for September 19.
With reports of a private UMR poll suggesting Labour has moved away ahead of National during the crisis, the Prime Minister might be tempted to stick to that date while Opposition Leader Simon Bridges might prefer a delay.
But he wasn’t arguing for one yesterday on TVOne’s “Q+A”.
“It seems to me if we can come out of it (the lockdown) sooner, that is within a month there is the prospect of an election on time for New Zealanders,” he said.
“If the strains on the kind of lockdown we’ve got now last for much longer than a month, it’s a statement of the obvious, having an election on September 19 becomes much more fraught and difficult.”
It is that level of uncertainty that the prime Minister looks likely to try and end this week.