A national system for tracking and tracing people who've come in contact with Covid-19 sufferers appears to be the weakest link among factors requiring government confidence if it is to move the country out of the current level of lockdown by mid-week.
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The decision on whether to end the initial 28-day alert level 4 lockdown - that has run since March 25 - on April 22 will be assessed at Monday morning's Cabinet meeting, which will start earlier than usual, at 10.30am, for a 4pm public announcement.
"I'm confident we're on a path to have that up and going within the next week," said the director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, of work to create a robust national tracking and tracing system. The systems in place when the global pandemic hit New Zealand's shores had been designed only to deal with smaller, localised clusters, he said.
"I'm of the view that we are definitely on a pathway to having what is no less than a gold standard contact tracing end-to-end process. That will be essential for us to be able to safely go down to level 3 and lower," said Bloomfield.
To suggestions that could delay the move from the current lockdown to alert level 3 until perhaps Tuesday, April 27, after ANZAC weekend, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern answered for Bloomfield, saying: "Don't read into anything."
"We will not be getting into any hypothetical decisions today about the decisions Cabinet will be making tomorrow," she said at the daily media briefing on the pandemic response.
However, Ardern indicated it was unlikely that some sectors of the economy might resume operations ahead of other parts of the economy.
"Ultimately, we've tried to create an alert level where we can move as a nation rather than stepping into different parts of the economy."
Former World Bank and Reserve Bank economist and risk modeller Ian Harrison, of TailRisk Economics, published a paper late last week suggesting the construction sector could have operated safely at level 4 and that the cost of closing it for a month was about $3 billion for a health benefit of just $7.6 million.
Ardern acknowledged that locked down businesses, "both large and small, have been feeling it."
In keeping with her daily practice of thanking one sector of the community affected by Covid-19, Ardern thanked small business owners for the sacrifices they were making.
"Nobody underestimates how hard this situation is for all of you, but I want to thank you for pouring so much effort into keeping your staff employed and working so hard to keep everyone afloat till the time that you can get things up and running."
Nearly $10b in wage subsidies paid out so far was intended to help businesses keep their staff employed until the economy can start opening up again.
Ardern outlined the criteria the Cabinet will consider in its lockdown decision as comprising:
• the Director-General of Health being "satisfied that there is sufficient data from a range of sources, including testing and surveillance, that public health experts, statisticians and modellers can have reasonable certainty that undetected community transmission is unlikely;"
• sufficient and rapid case identification and contact tracing with surge capacity available in case of an outbreak;
• robust quarantine, self-isolation and border measures that are being adhered to;
capacity in the health system more generally, including workforce, ICU capacity, and personal protective equipment for health and community workers;
• evidence of the effects on the measures on the economy and on society more broadly;
• public attitudes towards the measures and the extent to which people and businesses understand, accept and are overall complying with them; and
• the ability to "operationalise restrictions, including satisfactory detailed implementation plans by our all of government team and government agencies."
Alert level 3 will still not allow cafes, restaurants, cinemas, gyms and many types of retail store from opening because they would be hard-pressed to enforce physical distancing rules that are at the heart of New Zealand's attempt to eliminate Covid-19 - a higher level of ambition than most other countries, where suppression, containment and mitigation are being attempted.
Level 3 will allow 'safe' industries to operate, rather than only 'essential' industries at the current level of lockdown.
Level 2 is the earliest that relaxations on activities that allow people to congregate in larger groups will be contemplated, with physical distancing and working from home where possible still likely to be the norm for some months.