Health and statistics reasons for staying at level 2 for yonks, but…

“…it would take anywhere between 27 and 91 days of no new cases for there to be a 95% probability that the virus is gone from New Zealand”.

In practice it is getting increasingly difficult for the Government to justify staying at Covid-19 Alert level 2. Based on their current stance it could be another three weeks before they decide whether to change alert levels again, while daily we have been seeing no new cases for more than a week now, and we are down to just one (known) active case.

There are purely health reasons, based on statistics, for staying at level 2 for longer.

Siouxsie Wiles: Many want to go to alert level one right now. I get that. But we’d be fools to rush

There are several reasons why holding at alert level two for a little longer is the right thing to do. The main one is that a run of several days with no new cases doesn’t mean that there are no undetected active cases of Covid-19 out there. Recent modelling by Professor Nick Wilson and his colleagues at the University of Otago estimated it would take anywhere between 27 and 91 days of no new cases for there to be a 95% probability that the virus is gone from New Zealand.

The lower estimate was based on the assumption that most people showing symptoms would go and get tested. The higher estimate was based on fewer people getting tested. In other words, those estimates are the difference between shrugging of that runny nose as an allergy or going to get tested for Covid-19 just in case.

I get why so many people want to move to level one, I really do. These last few months have turned our lives and our economy upside down. Just as they have right around the globe. We’ve made big sacrifices and we feel we’ve earned it. But surely none of us wants to risk going back to alert level three. Alert level one will come. Let’s not squander what we’ve achieved.

That’s from an academic who presumably doesn’t have their job at risk.

But there is increasing pressure (with justification) for lowering the level for social reasons, for non-Covid health reasons, and particularly for economic and employment reasons.

More and more jobs are being lost (37.500 were lost in April), and when the 3 month wage subsidy runs out next month there are likely to be many more people who lose their jobs, and businesses who have to shut up shop.

As well as being devastating financially, that will impact on mental health and general health.

Health officials and academics with secure jobs and incomes may prefer to play ultra safe with Covid, but the rest of us have a lot of other things to consider and to be worried about.

The Government may be worried about what effect a second wave of Covid cases may have on their election chances.

They should also be worried about what effect a second wave of job losses and business failures might have, not just on their election chances, but also on the health of the country.

Government will wait to make next decision despite only 1 live Covid-case

Yesterday’s Ministry of health Covid-19 update showed that there have been no new cases for a week, and that there is now only now only case that is still ‘active’ (and that may have been active for a month so is nowhere near new).

But Grant Robertson says the Government will still wait a week and a half before making any decision about changing the current Level 2 restrictions.

On Monday Jacinda Ardern said that Cabinet would only re-evaluate Level 2 restrictions in two weeks time – that’s on 8 June, and a change to Level 1 may not happen for up to four weeks (to 22 June).

NZ Herald: Only one active case, but Grant Robertson won’t be drawn on lifting level 2 restrictions

New Zealand has just one active Covid-19 case today — but Finance Minister Grant Robertson refuses to be drawn on the possibility of lifting restrictions earlier than expected.

Robertson said New Zealand had done “incredibly well” in the fight against Covid-19.

The Government was flexible and would review alert level settings on June 8, he said, and reiterated Cabinet would look at moving to level 1 no later than June 22.

But he would not commit to action when asked whether having only one active case made it more likely that Cabinet might consider whether New Zealand was ready to move to level 1 earlier.

“The worst thing of all would be for New Zealand to move backwards again,” he told a media conference in Wellington.

No one wants to go back to Level 4, or even Level 3. But if people see ongoing restrictions as unjustified and ignore them, and don’t take seriously and future restrictions that poses greater risks.

The Government had wide and strong public support when we went into lockdown in March. But as the apparent dangers from Covid quickly reduced the public has tended to relax more quickly that Government restrictions were lifted.

There appears to be virtually no threat now. If the Government keeps restrictions on despite this they risk losing public support, which is likely to lead to people pushing boundaries or ignoring restrictions more.

Headlines like this from the ODT yesterday don’t help:  Police allowed gang tangi

Police allowed dozens of people to gather for the tangi of a Black Power member in Dunedin during lockdown.

As many as 50 people waited in a car park outside a funeral home for the tangi on April 30, blocked roads and later gathered at a gang pad, documents released to the Otago Daily Times under the Official Information Act show.

Many had travelled from outside Dunedin for the event.

Despite the breaches, police said in an internal email ‘‘trying to stop it will only create a worse situation for all’’.

There’s a real risk that if the Government is too cautious and pedantic in trying to prevent any cases at all it will create a worse situation if there is a second wave, and the public don’t care about restrictions that may be applied again and ignore them.

With next to no cases in the country now the public is largely moving forward while the Government retains restrictions and holds back business and employment.

Pressure increasing on lowering to Level 1 and trans-Tasman travel

Opening up travel between New Zealand and Australia has been proposed as both countries appear to have Covid-19 well under control. It looks unlikely to happen before New Zealand drops to Level 1 restrictions (whatever they may end up being), and Cabinet are not due to consider lowering to level 1 for a week and a half and it has been indicated (on Monday) it may be up to 4 weeks away.

Winton Peters has been talking about a Trans-Tasman bubble for over a month, and is now breaking ranks with Cabinet and says he wants one “yesterday”, but Jacinda Ardern has indicated that September is more likely

24 April: Trans-Tasman bubble could start ‘more quickly than we think’ – Peters

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says some businesses could be saved if the country creates a trans-Tasman bubble – and he’s open to starting on a state-by-state basis.

Fifty-five per cent of tourists who visit New Zealand come from Australia and the foreign affairs minister said it therefore made sense to start planning how a trans-Tasman travel bubble might work.

“So, it requires us to put our best minds together here and in Australia. I’ve spoken to the Foreign Minister in Australia about the need for us to start thinking about that now,” he said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is on board and said it made sense to work with New Zealand on any relaxing of the border restrictions.

“I would have thought New Zealand would be the obvious candidate [for border openings] and that’s the nature of discussions we’ve had,” Morrison said.

Wednesday: Hopes to get trans-Tasman bubble flying by July

A high-powered group investigating opening up trans-Tasman travel amid the coronavirus pandemic hopes to put its proposal to politicians by early June, and get people travelling by the July school holidays.

The ‘Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group’ is made up of 11 government agencies, six airports, two airlines, and includes health experts and airline, airport and border agency representatives from both Australia and New Zealand.

Started by Auckland Airport, and co-ordinated by the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum (ANZLF), the team of 40 experts have been working for the past two weeks on recommendations for the re-opening of borders between Australia and New Zealand.

ANZLF co-chair Ann Sherry said the group wanted to focus on getting it right first on the Tasman before opening up to the Pacific and other destinations.

“We’ve got an early June objective to get recommendations back to government, but we’re testing it with government as we go along to make sure our thinking isn’t divergent at this stage of the process.”

Once the systems were considered by decision-makers, she was optimistic the trial might be completed in time for the July school holidays, she said.

Prime Minister Ardern was non-committal:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has not set a date for how soon the bubble could be set up, saying both countries would need to be comfortable.

Ardern spoke with Australian prime minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday about the proposal, and said on Wednesday that there was enthusiasm on both sides of the Tasman.

The two countries were at different stages of easing restrictions, and New Zealand had had a bit more time to see how progress was going in stamping out Covid-19, she said.

“I’d say good work is taking place and it won’t be too long before we will be ready.”

Deputy Prime Minister Peters is pushing different aspirations:

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has broken rank with Labour, saying that quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel should already be allowed out of one side of his mouth, but has a different story out of the other.

However, Peters told a Trans-Tasman Business Circle briefing on Wednesday that opening the trans-Tasman border was urgent for both economies, but the two countries were not yet ready.

“If the decision was made today could we start tomorrow, I’m going to be honest and say no – but we’re working on it with the greatest of urgency now so that if the decision was made sooner rather than later, we’d be off and hopefully got every contingency foreseeable and imaginable covered,” Peters said.

Travel isn’t even allowed between states in Australia so opening up to New Zealand looks unlikely right now.

Yesterday in Parliament Winston Peters says he’d like to see trans-Tasman bubble implemented ‘yesterday’

National’s deputy leader Nikki Kaye questioned Mr Peters, who was answering on behalf of the Prime Minister in question time today, over recent disagreements within the Government on Covid-19 restriction timelines.

“Has the Foreign Minister (Winston Peters) advocated to her (Jacinda Ardern) or to the Cabinet to proceed faster around the trans-Tasman bubble,” Ms Kaye asked.

Mr Peters gave a direct response to the question.

“Take a wild guess,” he said with a wry smile.

Ms Kaye then pressed him whether he had pushed for a date that the travel bubble should come into force.

“Yesterday,” he replied before once again taking his seat.

But that may just be typical Peters posturing to an audience.

Margy Osmond, co-chair of the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group, told the Sydney Morning Herald they expected it to commence “as early as September”.

When asked about this, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said “that could be realistic”.

“I have been careful about putting down specific dates, but have been very focused on making sure we are ready, then we can move and we won’t be constrained by needing to do any administrative or logistical work at our borders,” she told media today.

Opening borders is dependent on moving to level 1.

ACT MP David Seymour has accused Peters of breaching Cabinet rules – Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters accused of breaching Cabinet rules in revealing Jacinda Ardern’s views on level 1 move

Speaking to Newstalk ZB this morning, Peters – NZ First leader as well as Deputy Prime Minister – openly talked about conversations had in Cabinet.

Asked if New Zealand had been in level 2 for too long, he said: “My party made it very clear we thought that. And the Prime Minister has actually admitted that at the Cabinet meeting – she said it.”

According to the Cabinet Manual – the set of rules for ministers, enforced by the Prime Minister – ministers are not allowed to talk about what happens within Cabinet meetings.

“Discussion at Cabinet and Cabinet committee meetings is informal and confidential,” it says.

“Ministers and officials should not … disclose or record the nature or content of the discussions or the views of individual ministers or officials expressed at the meeting itself.”

Seymour said that by saying what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in Cabinet on live radio this morning, Peters was in breach of this rule.

It is up to the Prime Minister as to whether or not a minister is disciplined for breaking the Cabinet Manual rules.

Ardern has a record of turning a blind eye to what Peters and Shane Jones do.

Regardless of this political posturing, the public may be adding to the pressure to ease restrictions and get back closer to normal. There have been no new Covid cases in New Zealand for a week, and there are now only 8 active cases, all in the  Auckland region. The case for continuing restrictions will get increasingly hard for the Government to maintain.

The country has virtually eliminated Covid – but the big risk now is if it comes back into the country when border restrictions are eased.

And while Australian Covid numbers look proportionally similar to here The virus figure Australian officials are most worried about

…despite the country’s achievements in overcoming the worst of the virus, there is still one concerning figure looming over its recovery.

Figures released by the Department of Health show that 732, or about 10.3 per cent, of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country have been locally acquired with no contact identified.

This means hundreds of people have caught the virus in Australia but the source of the infection could not be found.

That will be a concern to health officials here, and the Government says they rely on the officials for advice on easing restrictions.

But when should we at least lower to level 1 restrictions here? There has been no community transmission since early April, and business concerns are growing.

NZ Herald: Jacinda Ardern’s wriggle room on moving to alert level 1 early

Cabinet is set to look at whether New Zealand should move to level 1 on June 22, but pressure is mounting to move earlier, with Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters saying it should have already happened.

Yesterday a top business restructuring expert, Grant Graham, whose firm KordaMentha partner makes money from insolvency work, pleaded for a move to level 1 to save “unjustifiable” job losses.

Yesterday was the sixth straight day of no new Covid-19 cases, and there have been no community transmission cases – whose branches are harder to trace and isolate – since the beginning of April.

It is possible that there will be no active cases in New Zealand by Cabinet’s D-day on June 22.

Meanwhile Stats NZ revealed that the number of filled jobs plummeted by a record 37,500 in April.

The decimated industries of tourism, hospitality, and events are hoping for an earlier move to level 1, where there will be no physical distancing requirements and no restrictions on numbers at social gatherings.

Ardern said on Monday that Cabinet would consider the settings of level 2 in 10 days, on June 8, and it will meet no later than on June 22 to look at whether the country could move to level 1.

She reiterated that timetable yesterday, saying it was based on Bloomfield’s advice.

But Cabinet could decide, based on his advice, to open up level 2 even more after June 8, or consider moving to level 1 before June 22.

“We have given us some space, just in case,” Ardern said yesterday.

Ardern seems to have one eye on health advice, hopefully she has one eye on deteriorating business news, and both eyes on the election.

June 22 looks a long way away as we move close to no active cases in the country.

Cabinet to decide on lockdown conditions today

Today Cabinet will consider whether to relax the conditions of Level 2 lockdown – of particular interest will be how much they relax the restrictions on group gatherings, especially for churches which are currently limited to 10. The pressure seems to have gone off the funeral limits which were upped to 50 after a public uproar.

It’s possible a decision will be made to lower to level 1 but that seems unlikely at this stage. A few days prior to lowering from both Level 4 and Level 3 the Government released amended conditions for the level we were moving to.

So perhaps at best today we may get an easing of level 2 conditions and a signal that level 1 may be considered in two weeks time.

There has been little change to the Covid numbers over the last week, with just one new case and a gradual reduction in actove cases. The totals as at yesterday:

As at 9.00 am, 24 May 2020
Total Change in last 24 hours
Number of confirmed cases in New Zealand 1,154 0
Number of probable cases 350 0
Number of confirmed and probable cases 1,504 0
Number of recovered cases 1,456 1
Number of deaths 21 0
Number of active cases 27 -1
Number of cases currently in hospital 1 0

Lowering to Alert Level 2 on Thursday

By Thursday we will be switching down to Covid Alert Level 2 lockdown, sort of, as per the rules published last week but with a few tweaks.

(11:59 pm Wednesday is virtually Thursday).

Shops, cafes, restaurants, playgrounds and other public places will be able to reopen on Thursday.

Monday 18 May all children will be able to go back to school.

Thursday 21 May bars will be able to open with proper safety measures – but with a welcome clarification, a single person can serve multiple tables but must do everything on each of those tables (take orders, server, clear up). Group bookings limited to 10.

If the primary purpose is for dining they can open this week, if the primary purpose is for drinking they can’t open until next week. Odd distinction.

Social gatherings at home limited to 10 people, also tangis, funerals and weddings, and also religious gatherings and church services – seems to be a new tweak.

Jacinda Ardern has just announced this along with another speech.

This will be reviewed in two weeks, with an indication gathering numbers may be tweaked some more but staying on level 2.

“A long road to full recovery”.

Masks won’t be required on public transport.

All going to plan things will keep opening up after two weeks, and another two weeks.

Alert Level 2 details (subject to the variations announced).

Ardern’s announcement (I’m not going to try to precise, a lot of waffle in it)

More details probably to come.

Alert level decision today

Today Cabinet will make a decision on whether to lower us to Covid Alert Level 2 or not. That will be announced at a 4 pm news conference.

There seems to be a growing public desire to loosen the restrictions after 6 weeks in fairly strict lockdown, with an increasing number of people going on walks and doing other activities in sometimes quite crowded public situations.

The revised rules for Level 2 were announced last week – see Alert Level 2 information.

But there is some talk of the need to strengthen some of the restrictions, and to phase in the change to level 2. From NZ Herald: Cabinet meets to decide if New Zealand is ready for alert level 2

If Cabinet decides the country is ready to come out of level 3, New Zealand could move to alert level 2 as early as Wednesday.

That’s misleading. 11:59 pm on Wednesday is effectively Thursday for everyone.

And if level 2 is greenlighted, one of the country’s top epidemiology experts says the Government should consider making masks on public transport compulsory.

“This would give us another line of defence,” Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said.

Baker supported a phased approach to level 2.

“Thinking logically, you might begin with the most controlled environments, like workplaces and schools, where risk can be minimised.”

Then, once officials are sure level 2 was showing signs of success, the Government could loosen restrictions on places like bars and nightclubs, he said.

But the Level 2 rules have already been announced. If they were changed again, and in effect a level 2.5 was introduced, that would be confusing and would be likely to be even more ignored than the current Level 3.

He told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking today that complacency and rule-breaking were common right now.

They would become more common if they start dicking around with Level 2 rules at this stage.

Losoening restrictions to soon or too fast do raise the risks of Covid re-establishing itself. The virus has proven to spread quickly and easily.

But if the Government decides to keep us in Level 3 for longer they risk losing the support of the public, who willingly did the level 4 lockdown thing in the interests of their safety and public safety, but now Covid looks to be under control and very low risk to nearly everyone it will be hard for even Jacinda Ardern to convince people of the need not to relax some more.

We will find out this afternoon, but I think that Government would have to have a much stringer and more specific reason to not lower the lockdown level than “we must stay the course for another week (or two)” and other overused phrases.

This sort of headline won’t help keep the public on side: Alert levels two and three could be in place for ‘moderate amount of time’ – obviously that’s possible, especially level 2, but talk of an extended period on level 3 is unlikely to be popular.

Daily update with Level 2 details

Alert Level 2 restrictions announced (but not in force yet):

  • Businesses can restart for staff and customers if they’re able to do so safely.
  • Bubbles can cease
  • Domestic travel recommences
  • Schools and early learning centres can open
    Distance learning will be available for those unable to attend school, for example where people are self-isolating.
  • Gatherings both indoors and outdoors are limited to 100 people
  • Public places reopen
  • Sport and recreation comes back on-stream, including professional sports competitions
  • Home gatherings must be kept small
  • Hospitality must follow the three S’s – seated, separated, single-server

Alert Level 2 will see significantly more activity open up across the country requiring New Zealanders to play it safe and remain vigilant so the virus doesn’t bounce back, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today.

“In a nutshell, Level 2 is a safer normal designed to get as many people back to work as possible and the economy back up and running in a safe way, made possible only by our collective actions at Levels 4 and 3 to beat the virus and break the chain of transmission.

“On Monday, May 11, we will make a decision on whether to move, taking into consideration the best data and advice we can, recognising the impact of restrictions, and ensuring we don’t put at risk all of the gains we have made.

“We need to balance the risk of the virus bouncing back against the strong desire to get the economy moving again.

Internal tourism will be ok as long as other rules are complied with – no large groups allowed.

Details:  Alert Level 2

Dr Ashley Bloomfield with the daily numbers.

1 new confirmed case (household contact of a known cluster), total now 1,489

1,332 recovered (89% of cases)

2 people in hospital, no further deaths (total still 21).

A record number of tests yesterday 7,323 – total now 168,023

Dr Bloomfield says the initial review of exemptions has been completed, and found that all decisions had been made correctly in terms of process and findings, but if they were made again under the updated process and findings from the recent High Court case some would be allowed. As a result one person has been able to leave quarantine.

The “updated process and findings” are what has been determined by the High Court.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern:

Businesses can restart for staff and customers, and services can be provided, but still consider if you have to be there in person. Flexibility but basic hygiene requirements are needed.

Cafes, restaurants and bars can reopen but social distancing with number limiting and cleaning etc required.

  • People must be seated, maximum number 100 in one place
  • People must be separated – social distancing required
  • Each table must have a single table server.

Contact tracing will be important with recording of who is in premises.

Hairdressers and beauty provides will need PPE gear.

Gatherings – maximum of 100 inside, but outdoor gatherings will be also be limited to 100 (last time on level 2 it was 500).

Weddings, religious services and funerals will be able to resume with the 100 maximum limit.

The same for public places like museums and markets, also pools. Clubs will be able to start up again.

Professional sport will be able to resume on a domestic level. No stadium crowds but sport can be played.

You no longer need to stick to the bubble, you will be able to visit family and friends, but advised to keep numbers small. More details ‘in the coming days’.

Moving around the country – travel is ok but what you do when you get there is important and must comply with the other rules.

“At alert level 2 playing it safe means two metres from strangers, but in your workplace or places where you’re around people you know or people we can contact trace later, we can live with less.”

Education – schools and early learning services can reopen. Some children will remain at home if at risk of Covid.

If there is a case identified at a school it will immediately shut down for 72 hours until things are assessed.

Schools will reopen on the Monday following the shift down to level 2.

Mothers Day this Sunday – still at Level 3 so only remote contact.

“Level 2 is now our new normal” (when we get there).

These details to be confirmed via official information when available online.

Some academics suggest rapid relaxation back to Covid Level 2 restrictions

While the Government and the Ministry of Health seem to be still taking a cautious approach to relaxing Covid-19 Level 4 restrictions on movements, business and schools and universities, some academics are suggesting a quick return to Level 2 which would allow business and schools to start to return to as near normal as is possible in the current situation.

The official line could change as the situation keeps evolving quickly, more data is gathered and a better understanding of the risks emerges.

There are risks with seeing the success in limiting spread and deaths so far as meaning restrictions were too stringent and relaxing things too quickly. Whatever changes are made to restrictions things will need to be carefully monitored.

Looking at different expert views is important in informing the decision makers.

Stuff: Lockdown rules should be relaxed, health experts say

A group of public health experts has broken ranks on the Government’s lockdown strategy, calling for a return to near-normal life in two weeks.

As the number of new coronavirus cases continue to drop, the group of academics told Stuff the Government’s lockdown plan is out of proportion with the health risks posed by the virus.

The group said that from 22 April, when the current lockdown period is due to end, New Zealand should drop to “level two” alert.

This would leave Kiwis free to return to work, most schools and universities and businesses would re-open, and leisure activities and domestic travel would resume.

Restrictions on overseas travel restrictions and gathering on more than 100 people would remain under their plan, titled “plan b”.

Jacinda Ardern has advised the Government will be announcing a revision of Level 4 and Level 3 rules and guidelines on Thursday (sounds a bit like a revised plan ‘a’ at least if not Plan B), and will announce if we will drop from Level 4 next Monday. She and the MoH will be (or at least should be) informed by a range of expert opinions, so this is the time to be discussing the options.

In response to the the group’s proposed plan, a Government spokesman said “the Prime Minister has been clear the best way to protect New Zealanders’ health and economy is to stamp out the virus.

“Modelling undertaken in NZ and the evidence we see daily in the news from overseas tells us that significant loosening of restrictions before the virus is under control, as suggested by this group, can lead to our health system being completely overrun, many people dying and doing even greater damage to our economy.

“Those countries that have followed the sort of prescription set out by this group have generally seen surges in cases and enormous pressure placed on their health systems as well as a far greater number of deaths. In contrast our strategy is seeing a reduction in cases.

The early success of the lockdown should not be used as a reason to move too quickly.”

It sounds like a cautious approach is still favoured but Ardern said they were delaying decisions as long as possible to get as much information as possible to base their decisions on. This should include consideration of a variety of opinions.

The alternative plan was developed by Auckland University’s Senior Lecturer of Epidemiology Simon Thornley.

Others to back the plan include Grant Schofield, Professor of Public Health at AUT, Gerhard Sundborn, senior lecturer of population and pacific health at Victoria University, Grant Morris, Associate Professor of Law, Victoria University,  Ananish Chaudhuri, Professor of experimental economics, University of Auckland, and Michael Jackson, postdoctoral researcher in biostatistics and biodiscovery, Victoria University.

Thornley said the evidence thus far showed eradication of the virus in New Zealand, the Government’s stated aim, was not necessary.

“Lockdown was appropriate when there was so little data…but the data is now clear, this is not the disaster we feared and prepared for.

I don’t know how he can state that with any certainty. In part at least we haven’t suffered the disaster ‘we feared and planned for’ because of the level of actions taken. If nothing was done to prevent the spread of Covid-19 it almost certainly would have been a major disaster, as Italy, Spain, Belgium, New York and other places found the hard way.

Elimination of this virus is likely not achievable and is not necessary.”

Elimination probably isn’t achievable, especially as borders open again, but we should be able to stay near to no spread for some time.

I think it’s still debatable whether virtual elimination is a goal worth targeting or not.

Thornley said the risk to most working people was low and likened it, for most people, to a seasonal influenza virus.

That’s right, and fortunate for most people, although some younger (under 70) victims have become very sick here (and for example Boris Johnson who could easily have died without the best possible hospital care).

He said the plan was developed amid concern the Government’s strategy was over-the-top and likely to “substantially harm the nation’s long term health and well being, social fabric, economy and education”.

Thornley had already said it wasn’t over the top. The debate now is what to do from here, and obviously economic and social health are important considerations.

No deaths had occurred in New Zealanders under 70 and much of the modelling related to the mortality associated with Covid-19 was overestimated, the group said in a statement.

The real threat posed by the virus was it would overwhelm the health system but New Zealand’s risk was lower than in other countries with higher population density, and our health system currently has spare capacity.

That capacity is only due to cutting back on normal health care, and that will have to ramp back up again.

“Data shows a large majority of Covid-19 fatalities have occurred in people due to their comorbidities rather than directly from the virus. Even in Italy only 12 per cent of cases were directly due to Covid.

Many illnesses become more serious due to comorbidities, that’s normal.

“If you catch Covid-19 your likelihood of dying is the same as your average likelihood of dying that year anyway. It has been described as squeezing your years mortality risk into two weeks.”

This looks a bit callous. The difference between dying some time in the next 12 months versus substantially raising the risk of dying within the next 2 weeks is going to be a big deal for nearly everyone of given the choice.

But it may be an indirect choice – what all of us do and are allowed to do can affect the risks for the most vulnerable age and comorbidity group.

The group’s plan would see the majority of schools and universities reopen, most businesses continue to operate, and allow domestic travel to resume.

Other parts of the plan would include people over 60 or with medical conditions continuing to self-isolate and receive state funded support and priority care.

There’s some merit in these suggestions but I don’t think it’s that simple. Freeing things up for people under 60 and accepting some persistence and ongoing spread of Covid-19  will be quite difficult to keep separate from those over 60, whose isolation from the virus would become even harder – and riskier – than it is now.

Thornley et al raise some important alternative considerations, but their proposals could be relaxing restrictions too quick too soon for the decision makers – and possible for people over 60 too. I wonder which way Winston Peters would want things to go?