15 Jun 2020

Covid-19: Siouxsie Wiles on virus elimination

9:10 am on 15 June 2020

It's official - today is Elimination Day. Or is it?

Covid-19 coronavirus particles, illustration. The new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (previously 2019-CoV) emerged in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

Photo: AFP

It's been 28 days since the last case of community transmission of Covid-19 ended quarantine.

That means the chain of transmission has been broken. And that means we've eliminated the novel coronavirus - except for the fact that people are arriving through our border.

Which is why the Ministry of Health says it is not trumpeting the milestone, and instead is focusing on efforts to prevent any new cases from coming in.

Dr Siouxsie Wiles, an infectious diseases specialist from the University of Auckland, said that it was "very exciting" we hadn't seen any new cases, especially since lockdown restrictions ended - but the Ministry of Health was right to be cautious.

"The danger now comes from our borders and that's why we all still need to be really conscious that if you have a sniffle or anything that we still go and get tested, just in case there has been some transmission from someone who's come into the country," she said.

People arriving in New Zealand from overseas are required to undertake a 14-day quarantine. Wiles said for the vast majority of people, the incubation period for Covid-19 was between two and 10 days.

"The really important thing now is we have all of the means to track cases and identify them quickly, but that means people need to come forward quickly if they have any symptoms," she said.

No caption

Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

In China, Beijing have seen lockdown measures return, after cases of Covid-19 emerged nearly two months after the city appeared to have eliminated the virus. Beijing had gone 55 days where the only new cases of the virus were from citizens returning from other countries. However after residents had largely returned to normal life, dozens of cases were discovered to be linked to a food market in the Southern Fengtai district.

Wiles said this was a reminder to New Zealanders not to become complacent.

"We keep on keeping on but we have to be absolutely mindful that the virus is out there and it still poses a massive threat to us in the absence of having a vaccine out or any good treatments."

However, she said it was important to remember that New Zealand had done "fantastically well" in efforts to stamp out the virus.

"We worked as a team and we had to do that lockdown because we didn't have a lot of the structures in place that could have coped with a virus like this. So we really need to think moving forward how we would strengthen our health system, how we would do things, so that if when something like this happens again, we don't end up in the same position."

As of yesterday, it had been 23 days without a new case of Covid-19 in New Zealand. The combined total of confirmed and probable cases was 1504 and a total of 310,297 tests have been carried out.

The last day that New Zealand reported an active case of Covid-19 was on 22 May.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs