Covid-19 expert Michael Baker argues for more levels to be added to NZ's alert system

Abbey Wakefield
Source: 1News

Epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker has been calling for a new alert level system for six months now, and said that New Zealanders will be able to adapt to it.

His latest comments come as a recent community outbreak saw Auckland spend three days at Alert Level 3, with the rest of New Zealand at Alert Level 2 for the same time period.

“I think New Zealanders are smart enough to appreciate the benefits of having a finer grain system so we can avoid ever having to go into lockdown again,” Baker said.

The University of Otago professor said he’d feel better if Auckland was at Alert Level 1.5, instead of Alert Level 1.

“The trouble at the moment is you go from Level 2 straight to Level 1 — there isn't an intermediate level and once people get to Level 1 they think it's business as usual and that you don't need to worry at all,” Baker said.

In a statement to 1 NEWS, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said, “the Government welcomes discussion and ideas on ways to improve the tools we currently use to keep New Zealanders safe from Covid-19”.

National’s Covid-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop said Baker's recommendations are worth looking at.

"We should always be striving to refine our approach, so it's worth the Government talking to experts like professor Baker," Bishop said.

Hipkins said the system’s measures would be updated on a certain basis.

“The measures may be updated on the basis of new scientific knowledge about Covid-19 and/or information about the effectiveness of intervention measures in New Zealand and elsewhere."

But during question time in Parliament last week, Hipkins emphasised the advantage of keeping the alert system as it is. 

"One of the most important things about our alert level system is that the public of New Zealand need to understand it, so they need to understand what is expected of them at each alert level," he said. "So we've now had plenty of time for New Zealanders to get used to what's required of them at Level 2, Level 3, Level 4 and even at Level 1."

But the Government has refined the requirements without overhauling the entire system, Hipkins added, pointing to masks on public transportation and businesses being told to display QR codes for the Covid Tracer app.

"So we continue to refine the system, but what we don't want to do is create a situation where people, on a daily basis, when they get out of bed in the morning, don't know what they're expected to do."

Baker praised the efforts of New Zealanders to adapt, suggesting they will continue to be able to do so.

“New Zealanders have had to adapt to a number of changes that were unthinkable a year ago and I think we've done it very well,” he said.