22 Sep 2021

Covid-19: Delta outbreak here to stay - modeller Rodney Jones

From Morning Report, 7:13 am on 22 September 2021

A Covid-19 modeller says the current Delta outbreak is here to stay.

Daily cases have been bouncing around in the 20s and teens for the past week and have yet to fall below 10.

Wigram Capital's Rodney Jones has been tracking the numbers virus and said the R-Value or the rate it can spread is still too high.

"Well, this is a classic Delta outbreak where you just can't catch up with it, you're always chasing it down, but you never catch it," he said

"There's always cases in the background in the community, and they pop into view, and that creates the numbers that we receive."

He said it was unlikely that New Zealand would ever get to zero cases and instead numbers were likely to drift higher.

Exercise and social distancing near Auckland's Harbour Bridge during level 4 lockdown.

Auckland in lockdown. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

The R-value is moving around too much, making elimination of the Delta outbreak pretty much impossible, Jones said.

"For elimination to work, you need an R-value around 0.4, which is what we had in the first outbreak in 2020, and we haven't got down there this time.

"In our models, we got down to 0.6 for a few days, and then it kind of bounces back."

Jones is now preparing New Zealanders for the way life will need to be when we live with the virus.

He said even when vaccination rates are up, there will still be a layer of restrictions people will need to follow to keep on top of life now with the virus.

"We have to adjust, we have to stop looking back in the rear-view mirror, we have to stop holding on to our successes of last year, this is different.

"We can succeed, but we're going to succeed in a different way, and it may be better long term.

"That means learning to live with the virus."

He said he knows that is a statement people reject, but the virus is in animal and humans globally, and it's not going away.

He said no country has successfully managed to eliminate Delta, but there are now some countries successfully learning to live with the virus.

Right now, strict restrictions are the right thing to do because the levels of vaccination are not high enough, said Jones.

However even once that happens, he said there will still be some controls in our toolkit to work with the new Delta life.

"We need rapid testing, we need for people to be able to self-test, that will be the most important, we need to for people to be responsible for monitoring themselves.

"Masks like we have are going to be a part of their life from now on, we're not going back to no masks, we will probably still have limitations on the size that people can gather till we're really confident we can manage a particular level of cases."

Blurred llustration of Covid-19 Corona Virus

An illustration of the Covid-19 virus. Photo: 123rf.com

Jones said this would be the way we need to live for as long as the virus represents a threat.

"In the last 18 months, we've lived in echo with the freedoms we've had, we lived in echo of a prior world that doesn't exist.

"That's now over and we have to move forward."

He said this idea will upset people because the country was so unified on elimination and our past success.

"We've got anchored around 'New Zealand was different', that we were able to eliminate the virus, that we had a degree of social cohesion that we could do that other countries had failed.

"We did do that in 2020, and we did do that for most of 2021.

"But one day that would fail, and now is probably that time."