Warnings there isn’t enough data to make lockdown level decisions

Today the Government is going to describe in detail what a change to Level 3 and Level 2 lockdown levels will mean for us, and on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has committed to announcing a decision on whether to lower the alert level on Monday, two days before the initial 4 weeks on level 4 expires.

But experts are warning there isn’t enough data to make the decision.

RNZ: Data on contact tracing, tests, borders needed to inform lockdown level – scientists

Epidemiologist Michael Baker, who is on the Health Ministry’s Covid-19 technical advisory group, said some of the data he needed to see to be confident of going to alert level 3 may not exist yet.

“There’s a whole suite of data I would like to see, to make it really clear that we’re ready to … drop down our response level,” he said.

Prof Baker told RNZ he had been asking the ministry for weeks for certain key data about border control, contact tracing and testing but had not received it, nor had the advisory subgroup he was on with four other epidemiologists.

“I don’t think any of the epidemiologists I know have seen data covering all of these key measures.”

The public deserved to see that data before the Cabinet decision on Monday about changing the alert level, Baker said.

“Someone needs to see these data to say, yes, the system’s all performing adequately. I think that’s really vital.

“I’m hoping these data will appear very soon, because I think it is a critical input for making a decision of this magnitude.”

I would have thought that Prof. Baker would know if the data was going to be available soon or not.

Border control systems may be effective, and the data for them may exist, but it might not exist yet in the right form to be analysed properly, he said.

“It’s possible. I know getting the data into a robust form is a real challenge for our system because it has been under-resourced, progressively for many years. And this is really a massive increase in capability and expectations.”

He said clear data showing whether contact tracing was good enough to loosen restrictions should be available, but he had never seen it despite asking the ministry repeatedly for it.

It’s a bit alarming that a top Government adviser is not getting information and  data he requires to give informed advice.

Auckland University Professor Shaun Hendy is expected to submit to the government tomorrow his team’s modelling on the risks of an outbreak from easing the lockdown.

The team had about three-quarters of the data they needed, after improvements in how it was coming through in the past week, he said, but some of the contact tracing data was “really weak”.

He said the quality of data on testing was about eight or nine out of 10, but it was not easy to compile.

“Some of that information is still sent around by fax these days, so you can imagine that’s quite hard to transcribe. But we we are starting to get that information now”.

They send  data around by fax? Good grief. Not only is it ancient technology, it raises the risks if data has to be manually transcribed. I’m gobsmacked by this reliance on obsolete last century technology.

However, the team was struggling to get good data on contact tracing.

“We’re at the bottom end of the scale,” Prof Hendy said. “I understand the demands on the contact tracing operations at the moment, they’re working as fast as they can. But that’s a bit of a bit of a blind spot for us in our modelling.”

“We have some really weak idea of how much that capacity could be scaled. So let’s say we had another regional outbreak in a few weeks’ time, how much resource can be deployed to one of the regions to contain that outbreak.”

He was not confident they knew enough to make a call on going to alert level 3 region by region.

“If you’re going to relax that region earlier than the rest of the country, then there’s things you’d like to know about the way that public health is being deployed in that region that would minimise those risks,” he said.

“I think that’s a difficult call to make.

This doesn’t encourage me that information is sufficient or robust.

It also doesn’t sound  promising for a relaxation of alert level next week.