Covid-19 modeller Professor Shaun Hendy said Auckland could spend “quite a period of time” at the Red setting when it shifts to the traffic light system.
The Government will announce when the city will move to the new system on November 29, with the rest of the country following suit.
On December 15 Auckland's border will reopen after for those who are fully vaccinated or return a negative Covid-19 test result within 72 hours of travelling across the border.
While the changes have been welcomed by many, it comes with a degree of risk as the city clocks in 10 days at Alert Level 3, Step 2.
Hendy, from the University of Auckland’s Pūnaha Matatini, told Breakfast the country has not yet seen the impact of retail opening up in Auckland 10 days ago, on Covid-19 cases numbers.
“Those will just be starting to filter through now so we might start to see the effect over the next week,” he said.
“There is always a lag when you’re looking at the data. It often makes it hard to interpret what’s going on but we’ll be expecting if those changes have led to increased infections, we’ll see that over the next week or so.
“It’s still a bit of an unknown.”
He said, however, that the traffic light system would be safer than any move to Alert Level 3, Step 3 next week due to the difficulty involved in social distancing and the lack of vaccine certificates with the reopening of hospitality.
“I think we should probably wait for the traffic light system to kick in in Auckland. I don’t think we’re that far away from having the ability to do that with the vaccine passports that were released.”
Hendy said he preferred a more cautious approach, however.
“Let’s wait and see what impact the reopening retail - that’s Step 3.2 - has had on case numbers and then move to the traffic light system.”
He said it’s unknown at this stage what the traffic light system will look like in terms of case numbers, noting that we “haven’t tried this system before so there’s a lot of uncertainty”.
There are also concerns around how the Government will approach the system.
“Are they going to be relatively relaxed ... or are they actually going to be quite aggressive and use that red traffic light setting and even the emergency setting where you might have localised lockdowns?
“A lot of what will happen over the next year just depends on that tolerance that we have for cases. If the Government’s very relaxed, we could see a significant outbreak still, even though we’ll be - for most of the country - at reasonably high vaccination rates.
“Most communities still remain at risk.”
Hendy said he believes Auckland “could spend quite a period of time” at Red once it moves to the traffic light system due to the high number of case numbers.
“It’ll take quite a while for those numbers to come down so we could be in that Red traffic light setting for quite some time, and we could spend significant periods of next year in that setting.
“It’s even possible that we might need, at various stages next year, to use those localised lockdowns, even in Auckland where we have relatively high vaccination coverage. There’s still going to be pockets of people that are below that 90 per cent rate.”
Hendy added that 90 per cent of the eligible population being double-vaccinated “is not a magic number”, saying, “It’s always got to come with other public health measures”.