Notwithstanding New Zealand’s outstanding record in combating Covid-19, the virus is unlikely ever to die out completely, the country’s health chief has warned.
Even with widespread vaccinations, it could remain highly transmissible – although less deadly.
Viruses change but don’t easily die out
Speaking during an interview on New Zealand’s popular AM Show yesterday (Wednesday), the Director General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said if the new variants of Covid-19 escape managed isolation and quarantine, the impact could be greater than it was for the country in 2020.
“If you think about influenza, which was first recorded in 1172, I think, in Europe … these viruses don’t tend to die out … They change over time and in fact what we are seeing with these new variants is that they tend become more transmissible and less deadly over time,” he noted.
The current crop of vaccines would help people to develop immunity, as would the natural immunity that people who had been infected would also develop.
Stringent border controls no guarantee
Bloomfield said that although New Zealand had stringent border entry and quarantine requirements for anyone entering the country, there was always the possibility that the virus or a variant could slip through.
“We’ve got a huge amount of effort going in at the border to make sure it’s as watertight as it can be, but it’s a big operation.”
One mutation that emerged in the UK and another in South Africa, both said to be more infectious, had already been detected in New Zealand’s managed isolation facilities.
Future lockdowns remain a possibility
He emphasised that lockdowns could still be implemented in the future if the situation warranted it. “That’s not something we would reach for straightaway and it very much depends on the situation,” he explained.
Bloomfield also warned that usage of the Covid Tracer app had reduced dramatically over the festive season.
“We’ve all been on holiday; we’ve been out of our usual routines but we’re getting back into those now, and now’s the time not to be complacent. We’ve got to be more vigilant than we were last year,” he said.