Successful lockdown could buy enough time for a vaccine

But that sounds like a lockdown far longer than 4 weeks, although a month could be sufficient if all measures are rigidly followed and enforced.

Te Pūnaha Matatini, the centre for research excellence that Shaun Hendy leads, studies complex systems and networks. Right now, he and the centre’s other researchers are working to predict how Covid-19’s web of infection might spread – and if it’s possible to slow it down or even stop it.

Modelling shows NZ’s lockdown could buy time for a vaccine:

Modelling done by New Zealand researchers shows the lockdown measures now in place could buy the country more than a year for a vaccine or treatment to be developed.

However, the research shows that without a vaccine or cure, cases of Covid-19 will still peak well beyond hospital capacity as soon as any lockdown ends.

The modelling, released today by Te Punaha Matatini, shows measures similar to those now in place can suppress the virus for up to 400 days but infections could spike as soon as they are gone, because the population will not have developed any herd immunity.

However, any fewer restrictions would result in a peak of at least six times hospital capacity within just a few months.

The paper compares a “suppression strategy” – a sustained period of restrictions – with a “mitigation strategy”, where controls are lifted for brief periods before being put in place again as infections rise and ICU beds fill up.

In all scenarios, the lockdown period is modelled to last significantly longer than the initial four weeks that began today.

However, one of the researchers, University of Auckland Professor Shaun Hendy, told RNZ the current lockdown could be sufficient if all measures were rigidly enforced.

“Provided the contact tracing, testing, and containment strategy works then we may be able to relax in four weeks. But we need to cut cases to just a handful.”

The researchers wrote that both strategies were “fraught with uncertainty” but suppression at least had the advantage of buying New Zealand time until a vaccine or treatment became available.

“The initial modelling the team published yesterday is stark and, frankly, terrifying”:

Left unchecked, the virus would eventually infect 89 percent of New Zealand’s population and kill up to 80,000 people in a worst-case scenario.

ICU beds would reach capacity within two months and the number of patients needing intensive care would exceed 10 times that capacity by the time the virus peaked.

“Tens of thousands of people would die, our health system would collapse and people wouldn’t be able to get proper treatment. That explains why the government’s been prepared to take such drastic steps,” Hendy says. “The worst-case scenario is a really unpalatable one.”

Even the best-case scenario is hard to swallow. It assumes restrictions similar to the lockdown now in place – but suggests that unless testing, contact tracing, and isolation cut the number of cases to just a handful, the restrictions might need to remain in place for over a year.

And if the cases can’t be stamped out under those restrictions, the eventual peak will swell well beyond hospital capacity as soon as any lockdown ends, unless a vaccine or treatment is found in the interim.

“When controls are lifted after 400 days, an outbreak occurs with a similar peak size as for an uncontrolled epidemic,” Hendy and his colleagues wrote in a paper rushed out yesterday. “In other words, these strategies can delay but not prevent the epidemic.”

The good news – if there is any – is that while strict suppression measures remain in place, fatalities should remain in the low dozens and hospital capacity wouldn’t be exceeded. That would buy New Zealand time to wait for a vaccine or a successful treatment.

A lot of guesswork but also a lot of cause for concern.

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39 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  27th March 2020

    Garbage in, garbage out. Until the real rate of undetected infections and the lengths of immunity and infectiousness are known models are just speculations.

    Reply
  2. Duker

     /  27th March 2020

    You are dreaming if you think ‘extra weeks of lock down’ will get a vaccine ,developed , tested and mass produced. It might be a rush to have it in limited quantities in 6 months
    And is pointless when most people recover , the people sick are the most important concern and anti virals already in production are going to be the best bet. There is even talk of well known immune booster drug helping .
    But of course panic has no cure

    I cant see the shops having enough supplies to last the current 4 weeks. NZs an isolated country which makes meat veg, and milk powder. We import a lot of other foodstuffs from other countries and their own demand is ramped up.
    My usual morning porridge has practically disappeared by day 2 and another staple Weetbix looks under threat. A lot a basic ingredients for these and other foodstuffs only grow in season from plantings decided well ahead.

    The national shutdown is creating a a new monster which could well escape the lab…who now would remember wartime shortages that lasted for years.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  27th March 2020

      I have two boxes of Weetbix (generic, but who can be fussy ?) , by chance. And enough milk powder to last for some time…but not a YEAR or anything like it. Who does keep enough food to last a year ? Who has the storage ?

      I can’t see people willingly going hungry if the food runs out.

      I have read enough about the war to know how hard it was for people when there were the seemingly endless shortages…and how maddening it was.My grandmother had no qualms about going across the border and smuggling things like butter back from the South. I don’t blame her.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  27th March 2020

        I am a committed vegetarian who would never eat meat. BUT I think that the orders to butchers to dump meat rather than sell it or even give it away when supermarkets can sell it legally is beyond insane.

        Reply
        • Duker

           /  27th March 2020

          Yes. Complete crazyness from people who don’t know how the other half live.
          My food bag ok
          Mad butcher not

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  27th March 2020

            Nothing would induce me to eat meat now, but I am totally opposed to this senseless waste and the ensuing financial cost. It is surely classed as essential. Even I wouldn’t make this ruling, and I am in the meat is murder camp !!! It’s there, let it be sold.

            Reply
  3. David

     /  27th March 2020

    The UK with 65 million people is forecasting less than 20,000 deaths and they are at our level 3 with their border open, I saw the headline and thought what bloody tosh. No one knows because no one knows how many people have been infected so how can you forecast a mortality rate.
    If the forecast is anywhere near correct its because of the dirty great big hole in the border as we import the virus.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  27th March 2020

      The only person likely to die here was seriously ill anyway. None of the otherwise healthy ones seem to be in any danger.

      Reply
      • Duker

         /  27th March 2020

        The so called healthy that do get I’ll often have an underlying issue, heavy smokers or clinically obsese.

        Reply
        • Kitty Catkin

           /  27th March 2020

          Why am I not surprised by that ?

          I seem to remember reading about the large numbers of men who smoke in China and that this was why more men than women died,

          My mother smoked all her adult life, and died of a respiratory condition. She survived cancer but succumbed some years later to lung trouble.

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  27th March 2020

            It’s true about the man in ICU, PDTs, unless the health people are lying to us.

            The others are all stable.

            Reply
  4. oldlaker

     /  27th March 2020

    Shaun Hendy et al’s paper that Ardern based her lockdown decision on depends on so many variables that it is just a shot in the dark. And it states clearly that as soon as the lockdown is lifted we will have a full-blown pandemic since the lockdown only delays the inevitable. In fact, a lockdown only makes sense if we are using the month to build new ICU units at high speed to cope with the inevitable surge (or hope that an antibody test emerges so we can tell who can go back to work).
    Given this govt’s inability to manage building anything, I think our only hope is the latter.

    Reply
    • “Shaun Hendy et al’s paper that Ardern based her lockdown decision on depends on so many variables that it is just a shot in the dark. ”

      That’s what a lot of scientists and academics have been doing initially, because there were a lot of unknowns. As data improves models and predictions will also improve, becoming shots in the half light.

      But some modelling and analysis is better than no modelling or analysis.

      They could all just do nothing but try to deal with escalating health problems, but that has obvious risks that are far greater than taking action based on the best available information and models.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  27th March 2020

        Modelling (new catchcry) that results in alarmist panicmongering is worse than useless.

        Reply
        • What do you think should have been done?

          Do you think alarmist panicmongering caused the current problems in New York?

          Or all of the US, who currently have 85,653 official cases and 713 recovered. Do you think hospitals there should just be winging it without taking any notice of data analysis and modelling?

          Reply
          • Duker

             /  27th March 2020

            Straw man questions. Physics professors should stick to their knitting.
            Having ‘self taught amateurs’ is the worst possible way to go

            You are a technical person , amateurs who think they know must be the bane of your life and often make their problems much greater.

            And your random flinging around of ‘scary numbers’ here doesnt help either
            No one has panicked over 23,000 flu deaths and nearly 300,000 hospitalisations in US so far
            The total numbers with flu is a huge number as its both scary in your thinking and as most recover more correctly described as pointless.

            Reply
        • duperez

           /  27th March 2020

          Modelling might be a new notion to you. Rubbishing it as a tool and discounting the use of it and putting any value of it it behind your own opinions is absurd.

          We’ll rubbish Hendy et al whose work Ardern bases her decisions on shall we? Let her make decisions on what she reads in forums like this?

          (Mind you I suppose there are some who think praying and God will sort things out. A pity Ardern’s not a religious nutter. She could do things and say God was guiding her and you could be sure some would be ecstatic.) (I don’t know anything about her and religion).

          A number of times you have made comments relating to perspectives of ‘alarmist panicmongering.’ Some stand out in the Irrationality Stakes.

          Duker says having ‘self taught amateurs’ is the worst possible way to go. Having amateurs who are not self or any other taught better?

          Reply
          • Duker

             /  27th March 2020

            Hendy specialises in nano structures…..surely that tells you he knows nothing.
            If you think he can provide useful information without real data means you are living in cuckoo land …but media love a millennial who sounds like he’s an expert and millennials will lap it up….meanwhile an elderly biostatistics professor who says we don’t know enough yet gets ignored, isn’t scary enough for the media

            Reply
            • Specialising in nano structures suggests he probably knows something. But are you deliberately omitting everything else?

              Biography

              I am Director of Te Pūnaha Matatini, a New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence focussed on the study of complex systems and networks.

              I grew up in Palmerston North in New Zealand and received my Bachelors degrees from Massey University. I studied for my PhD at the University of Alberta in Canada from 1994-98.

              After my PhD I was awarded a New Zealand Science and Technology Post-doctoral Fellowship, which I took up at Industrial Research Ltd in Wellington. I stayed at Industrial Research until 2013, although I took on a joint appointment at Victoria University of Wellington as senior lecturer in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences from 2003, and as a professor from 2010.

              I served as Deputy Director of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology from 2008-2012 and as President of the New Zealand Association of Scientists from 2011-2013.

              I have won a number of awards, including the Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize and ANZIAM’s E. O. Tuck Medal. In 2012 I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. I am currently a professor of physics here at the University of Auckland.

              Research | Current
              Research areas

              Condensed matter physics
              Computational materials science
              Nanotechnology
              The physics of complex systems
              Innovation and economics

              https://unidirectory.auckland.ac.nz/profile/shaun-hendy

              I don’t know whether that qualifies him to do similar type modelling that a number of people around the world are doing, but what they are modelling looks fairly straight forward to me. Of course there are variables, that’s what modelling works with. Hendy has done best case to worst case scenarios (and thinks we have probably avoided the worst case end of the scenarios by doing the lockdown earlier than most countries).

              What you seem to be doing is the classic approach of dissing the method (modelling) and dissing the modellers with no notable arguments simply because you disagree with what they are suggesting.

              Hendy has been prepared to put his research out into the public.

              When you’ve done research will you do the same so it can be compared? If it’s good enough it should be used to improve on Hendy’s models.

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  27th March 2020

            Hell, if Ardern is making any decisions based on Hendy’s current models we are in the crap for sure. The uncrrtainties are just ridiculous.

            I presume her advisors will be listening to WHO and a range of other overseas expertise on the medical side and will be competent to articulate the options and uncertainties. I’m much less confident she will have good advice on business and economics and on positive rather than negative actions.

            Reply
            • “The uncrrtainties are just ridiculous.”

              That’s debatable.

              What’s not debatable is no modelling and no research and no action to mitigate the effects of the virus would increase the uncertainties by a large amount.

              I’m quite happy with the near certainty I won’t catch the virus, nor will those with me and in my care, due to complying with the current lockdown.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  28th March 2020

              I’m quite happy with the near certainty I won’t catch the virus, nor will those with me and in my care, due to complying with the current lockdown.

              You might be happy but: https://yournz.org/2020/03/28/open-forum-saturday-28-march/#comment-402842

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  27th March 2020

              Are you happy with the country facing bankruptcy, large increase in bankruptcy and all the financial and social repercussions of the lockdown? I’m not.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  28th March 2020

              Modelling doesn’t reduce the uncertainties at all, it just spreads them wider and may introduce more. You cannot get more information out than you put in. What modelling does is to pool information with its associated uncertainties and make predictions about a range of outcomes. All such predictions come with uncertainties, both known and unknown. All respectable science attempts to assess and report at least the known uncertainties in the predictions. We haven’t seen much of that in the media. Or any?

      • Pink David

         /  27th March 2020

        “But some modelling and analysis is better than no modelling or analysis.”

        This is simply not true. Bad modelling and analysis is far worse than nothing at all.

        Reply
  5. Duker

     /  27th March 2020

    The headline in The Age in Melbourne says it all
    First two Victorian Covid deaths were cancer patients at the local oncology ward. Both were over 70
    Bingo! It seems like northern Italy all over again, the sick people get sicker and the elderly have less chance to recover.
    It’s a fact of life and one day it will be my turn.
    There’s been an ad campaign running here:
    Every day 6 adults or children get diagnosed with a blood cancer
    https://www.leukaemia.org.nz/information/about-blood-cancers/

    Now that’s what I call a tradgedy and something we should have real concerns over

    Reply
    • A lot of concerns and resources go into dealing with cancers. Detection nd treatments have improved a lot and many people who get cancer get well enough to live for quite a long time. My father had bowel cancer but had an operation and lived for another fifteen years. I’d have been quite disappointed if a virus came along when he had cancer and he was just allowed to die because some people didn’t want to do anything about the virus.

      Are you suggesting that people unlucky enough to have caught cancer or have other existing medical problems are expendable, and you’d rather let them die than do anything about Covid-19?

      Reply
      • artcroft

         /  27th March 2020

        Is there any modelling on the mental health fall out from all this? What I suspect, and it seems many here do as well, is that the ‘down the line’ consequences will dwarf the current viral crisis.

        It’s not impossible to imagine govts falling, and being replaced with what? If a bank goes under and investors refuse to accept any of these two trillion new dollars the US is printing, cos no, they want gold. Well we are all f**ked.

        Reply
        • Blazer

           /  27th March 2020

          ‘If a bank goes under and investors refuse to accept any of these two trillion new dollars the US is printing, cos no, they want gold.’

          this makes NO sense at all.

          Reply
        • There’s certainly big risks in taking such drastic measures. And the ongoing effects will be significant, financially and for some mentally.

          But there’s also significant risks to lives, many lives. 8000+ in Italy despite them taking drastic action. 4000+ in Spain despite them taking drastic action. And it’s far from over anywhere.

          Aren’t we lucky we’re just a bunch of people discussing this in a small corner of the Internet, with only our own finances and health to worry about.

          Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  28th March 2020

          As I mentioned earlier current research estimates an increase in suicides of 1 per 100,000 population for a 1% rise in unemployment. Of course that is just the tip of the iceberg comprising mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, crime and intergenerational welfare dependence. That is the cost we are paying for inadequate medical services.

          Reply
          • Blazer

             /  28th March 2020

            that is the cost of…Capitalism…keeping up with the Jones.

            Reply
            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  28th March 2020

              No it isn’t. It is the cost of socialism, depriving people of self-worth, hope and purpose.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  27th March 2020

        If the country goes bankrupt because of the so far 0 death toll in a disease with a 99% survival rate, cancer victims will die anyway. No one’s suggesting that they be left to die, that’s a gross distortion.

        But anyone would think that Covid was the only disease around and an automatic death sentence.

        How many people is the PM sentencing to death with this lockdown ? If there are suicides and stress-related deaths, they will be her doing. The domestic violence is up already. The rest of us are paying too high a price.

        Reply
        • Kitty Catkin

           /  27th March 2020

          Every year 1200 (in round figures) people die of breast or prostate cancer alone in NZ. I don’t know how many die of cancer in total.

          6% of Kiwis develop diabetes and half of those will die of it.

          5-600 die of flu each year and although up to 230,000 have it, we don’t go into lockdown.

          Reply
  6. oldlaker

     /  27th March 2020

    I agree. I have an aggressive leukaemia, heart disease, I’m male and over 60… as far as I know that puts me in the most vulnerable category… but I know young (or young-ish) people who are facing bankruptcy and unemployment and others who will struggle terribly in a downturn.
    I’d prefer not to die sooner than I have to but I think anything more than a one-month lockdown will make the cure worse than the disease in terms of mental breakdowns, suicide, domestic violence and stress, and ruined lives and livelihoods.
    A month’s lockdown only makes sense to me if the govt takes full advantage of the hiatus to devote all its energies to setting up ICU units through commandeering private hospitals and any other facility it can find to deal with the inevitable upsurge in cases that will appear whether we lift the lockdown now or in a few months.
    Shaun Hendy’s paper makes that clear we are only delaying the inevitable (unless we get access to antibody testing first, which would allow the immune to return to the workforce).
    I am glad this virus picks off the unwell old and not the young… even if that includes me.

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  28th March 2020

      Well said. We should be doing what the UK is doing, marshalling businesses and volunteers to massively enhance medical capacity. No sign of any of that here.

      Reply
      • Face masks flowing to DHBs

        Medical face masks from the national reserve supply are now being distributed to District Health Boards, while at the same time local production is being ramped up.

        “Current demand for PPE is unprecedented but we have good stocks. We currently have more than 18 million masks in the national reserve held by the Ministry of Health and another 5.1 million held across DHBs, with more on order from local and overseas manufacturers.

        “We also have 1.9 million aprons and gowns, 2.7 million pairs of gloves and 60,000 eye protection stock.

        “Helpfully, we have a local face mask producer based in Whanganui that makes medical grade facemasks and is ramping up its production.

        https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/face-masks-flowing-dhbs

        Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  28th March 2020

          Yes, that’s good as far as it goes but currently the demand on hospitals land ICU is minimal. Where is the planning to massively extend those facilities?

          Reply

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