Increase in contact tracing needed for safe end to lockdown - disease specialist

Source: 1News

New Zealand needs to hugely increase its capacity for contact tracing to safely come out of the Covid-19 lockdown, infectious disease specialist Dr Ayesha Verrall says. 

Dr Verrall told TVNZ1's Q+A that at the beginning of the Alert Level 4 lockdown, New Zealand had the capacity to trace the contacts of 50 cases a day. 

"We need to scale it up," she said. 

"That needs to be closer to 1000 to safely come out of lockdown and not have to go back into lockdown the moment we have a small outbreak. 

An hour after Dr Verrall's interview, the Ministry of Health released a statement saying the Government's contact tracing service had traced 5000 close contacts so far. 

Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay said as of yesterday, 4909 close contacts had been traced since March 24, "with 702 contacts traced in a single day on Thursday". 

Dr Verrall also said a reduction in community transmitted cases was needed for a safe end to the lockdown, but she had not seen a breakdown in data "in whether the cases are community transmission or not over time, that's what I'm looking for". 

Dr Verrall said it was important that large numbers and large parts of the community were being tested for the virus, and that it was important those with mild symptoms got medical help. 

"We went into this outbreak knowing parts of our community are poor, living in crowded houses and don’t often go to the hospital. We could be missing an early outbreak.

When asked by host Jack Tame if all overseas travellers returning to New Zealand should go into restrictive quarantine, Dr Verrall agreed, saying the majority of Covid-19 cases came from overseas.