17 Mar 2020

Michael Baker on how to self-isolate effectively

From Afternoons, 1:18 pm on 17 March 2020

New Zealand should ramp up its response to Covid-19 and shut its schools, a public health expert says.

Professor Michael Baker from the University of Otago said New Zealand was so far making the right moves, but maximum effort now was needed to get on top of the situation.

“We need a lot more of social distancing and there's a whole gradation of those, from working home more and not going to mass gatherings.

“The other two elements are much more disruptive; that is school closures and cutting out public transport and unfortunately, I think we do need all those measures now, because we don't know how much transmission may be occurring in New Zealand.”

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Photo: RNZ/Philippa Tolley

The experience of Australia is a cause for concern, he said.

“It's become apparent in the last day or two Australia has lost the battle with containment.

“So, they're moving to the next stage of what we call mitigating toward dampening it down. I think New Zealand is in danger of joining them, unless we put maximal effort in now, while we've got this window of opportunity.”

New Zealand needs to keep the virus out and then stamp it out, Prof Baker said. Keeping it out is why border controls have been brought in; extensive testing is needed to stamp it out.

“And that's to do a lot more testing, identify anyone who may be already in New Zealand who's got this infection, we just don't know if there's what we call silent transmission happening.

“So, we need to put a lot more effort into that.”

While closing schools is disruptive, it is manageable and necessary, he said, because viruses are transmitted so rapidly in a school environment.

“One of the biggest risk factors for getting any virus infection; respiratory or gastro is having children and all of us with children know this. And so, unfortunately that does mean school closures I think are really vitally important.

“It's manageable, it's inconvenient. I mean, it's a cliche to say we're living a whole new reality and we need to get used to it - and we do.”

If people do need to self-isolate it is not a case of home detention, he said, but avoiding contact with others.

“You can wander around the block, take the dog for a walk, talk to your neighbours over the fence. It’s just you can't get close to other people.”

However, people with symptoms should contact Healthline immediately, he said.

“If you develop symptoms, which could suggest this infection, and that's going to be almost always a fever, and often a dry cough, and then you could also feel very fatigued as well - or any significant symptoms - then you ring Healthline and get some advice. And you might be someone who should be tested at that point.”

It is vital New Zealand acts swiftly now to “establish a basis for containment”, he said.

“And that is just simply keeping the virus out with the border controls. If we have chains of transmission, identifying those cases extremely quickly, and isolating them, and having teams of people to follow up all their contacts, and quarantining them very swiftly.

"All the modelling shows that’s critical. We've had countries overseas that show you can do it, but it requires a determined effort.”

And people who have a cough, or feel a bit under the weather ,should stay at home, he said.

“Instead of soldiering on, don't soldier on, no one will appreciate it. Stay at home, and absolutely vital, if you have a cough, not to be in social situations.”

If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)