Monday, 21 September 2020

New Zealand's Long Term COVID19 Strategy

People in traditional and social media regularly describe New Zealand's "elimination" strategy as "unrealistic" or "unsustainable", for example Greg Foran today. It's usually not clear what they mean or what specifically they think the New Zealand government should do differently, so it's hard to support their views, but I do think Jacinda Ardern (or Judith Collins if she leads the government after election) needs to articulate one or two of the most likely paths she expects New Zealand to take through 2021. Understandably they don't want to promise something they might not be able to deliver, but I would like to see them fill the vacuum of uncertainty with at least a tentative proposal.

Skimming media and various expert opinions, it seems very probable that at least one safe and reasonably effective vaccine will be available to us some time in 2021 — probable enough that we should bet on it. It seems reasonable to expect to vaccinate everyone in New Zealand who's willing — not an especially onerous step up from our annual flu vaccination campaign — by late 2021. After that we could return to pre-COVID border controls — even if we still expected COVID19 to arrive, some people to catch it, and some to die, the cost of reopening the border then would be much lower then than it is today. If we make that our tentative plan, I think there's a pretty strong argument for keeping NZ COVID19-eliminated as much of the time as possible until then.

On the other hand if that plan is unreasonable or unrealistic, I would like to hear expert views on what a better plan looks like! I mean an actual actionable plan, not something hopelessly vague like "we need to learn to live with the virus".