'Allies have let us down' in fight against Covid - NZ epidemiologist

Source: 1News

Some countries never tried or have given up eliminating Covid-19, and that’s why the virus is still winning “the war” against humans, a top epidemiologist says. 

Speaking at the Reconnecting New Zealanders to the World forum, where the Government has outlined its plans for to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, Sir David Skegg likened the pandemic to a “drawn-out war between the human race and a microbe”. 

“It may seem odd to describe a tiny virus as an enemy, but it is a formidable one. And, despite remarkable scientific progress in developing highly-effective and safe vaccines, globally, the virus is still winning the war,” he said. 

Sir David, who leads a public health advisory group to the Government, said the “crisis” was still growing overseas, with about 10,000 deaths a day from the virus reported globally. 

“One of our problems is that our allies have let us down. Many countries that could have eliminated Covid-19 either never tried, or threw in the towel. Each country has done its own thing.”

He said this was evident in the findings of an independent panel chaired by former Prime Minister Helen Clark.

“[It] showed how a weakened World Health Organization has been unable to provide the leadership required.

“Another challenge is that the enemy keeps adapting. In recent months, several new variants of SARS-CoV-2 have emerged, making control far more difficult.” 

Sir David’s advisory group concluded an elimination strategy for New Zealand was still viable.  

He said the situation Australia found itself in with Covid-19 was sobering, and that it was a warning to New Zealand. 

"I don't see their way out, actually.”

An elimination strategy for New Zealand would be advantageous, Sir David said. 

“The UK, after a disastrous year, has had a great vaccination roll-out … yet last week they still had 627 deaths from Covid – the equivalent of about 48 deaths a week in our population. 

“And most British people are avoiding contacts with others: Social contacts are still down on last summer, and are barely a quarter of pre-pandemic levels. Many people work at home, and about 90 per cent are still wearing a mask when outside the house.

“Look at this crowded room. None of us is wearing a mask, and we are not fearful of contagion. This would be unthinkable in most countries. 

“I hope not to spend the rest of my life shielding from others, especially in winter, and looking at faces covered by masks. But we are going for gold and we may not succeed – especially if we don’t achieve high vaccination coverage.”

Epidemiologist Sir David Skegg.

A near 100 per cent vaccination rate would allow New Zealand to reconnect with the world “with the least disruption, illness and death toll from Covid-19”, Sir David concluded.