I’m always happy to find websites that challenge the establishment view, and New Zealand’s Covid Plan B is just such a site. Plan B reflects my views entirely, and specifies the way I believe the UK government should be travelling, rather than micro-managing outbreaks with local lockdowns and increasing numbers of blanket quarantine’s imposed on holiday-makers returning from abroad. Plan B’s Plan appears at the bottom of this curated post.
International health data and experience is showing that New Zealand’s lockdown may now be unnecessary, and even more harmful than the problem we’re trying to solve. Plan B represents the knowledge, perspectives and questions of a multi-disciplinary group of expert and passionate people on how and why New Zealand should modify its response to COVID-19. We are a cross-disciplinary group of academics concerned about the welfare and futures of all Kiwis. As a group, we set up this website to share information for the public good and to set out our vision for a balanced response to COVID-19.
The government and its advisors have articulated a strategy of ongoing lockdowns of New Zealand society for the foreseeable future in an attempt to eradicate the virus. We believe that holding out for vaccine development or pursuing an aggressive eradication policy are not realistic.
We believe that it is in the best interests of the country to rapidly transition to a situation similar to the government’s alert level 2, while closely monitoring the spread of the virus and its impact on the health system. This would enable the majority of businesses to continue to operate and schools and universities to open. It would also allow essential domestic travel to resume.
We believe that an exclusive focus on the number of new cases of COVID-19 is less important than measures of whether or not the spread of the virus is causing an increase from background rates of hospital admissions, premature deaths, and intensive care bed occupancy. These latter measures are more important than the former in terms of deciding whether or not the country should be placed under strict lockdown in the future.
A focus of our response to the virus must incorporate returning to normality as soon as possible. The likely course of the virus is that many individuals will be infected with the virus, and immunity in the population will develop. We understand that laboratory services are currently stretched by focus on PCR tests for the virus. However, we believe serosurveys of immunity would provide valuable information about the extent that the community has been exposed to the virus.
Up until now, the government has been selective in the information it is choosing to share with New Zealanders. We do not have a clear picture of what the government’s response will be in the next nine months and have had to guess this from comments of its advisors. We have not been told that spare capacity at Auckland hospitals is currently high, for example. We believe that New Zealanders should be free to debate the direction that the country will take in the next nine months, and that transparency should be a guiding principle for leading the country through this crisis.
Plan B’s 10 point plan
- Low risk people should be allowed to return to their normal daily activities. For example:
- Schools and universities should reopen.
- All leisure activities are permitted
- People should be allowed to return to work. Those over 60 and or with underlying health conditions, and those uncomfortable returning to work, could continue to work at home with support from their employer and government.
- Domestic travel by any means is allowed.
- People at high risk of severe complications by virtue of age (> 60 years) or medical conditions (such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer or are immunocompromised) should continue to self-isolate and maintain social distance. These people should receive state-funded support and priority care. For example, supermarkets should prioritise all such people for at-home delivery.
- Health professionals should carry out strict hand hygiene and be provided all necessary personal protective equipment.
- High risk communities and groups, with particular focus on rest homes, should be protected from COVID-19 cases or infection and provided government support to do so.
- Gatherings of over 100 people are prevented.
- Encourage improved hand hygiene and exclusion policies for ill workers.
- Border entry is restricted for the near-future to reduce the risk of imported infection.
- Monitor hospitals for overcrowding and limited capacity in intensive care.
- Contact tracing and quarantine of newly identified cases is essential. Resources should be made available to ensure this is adequately carried out.
- Seroprevalence surveys, with PCR, should be considered to assess the proportion of the population who have been exposed to the virus. This would give valuable information about further risks posed to high risk individuals to facilitate their return to the community.