Too early for UK to lift lockdown, warns New Zealand expert after country declared Covid-free

'I’m shocked at the failure of the western world to assess the risk properly and act accordingly,' says Professor Michael Baker

Kate Ng
Wednesday 10 June 2020 17:06
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New Zealand health expert criticises UK quarantine measures

A public health expert who advised New Zealand on its response to the coronavirus outbreak has said the UK needs another four weeks of intense lockdown before it can eradicate the virus.

Michael Baker, a professor at the University of Otago, questioned why the UK was easing lockdown restrictions while imposing a 14-day travel quarantine for visitors to the country, and said both measures were needed.

His comments come after New Zealand officially reported no active cases of Covid-19 in the country on Monday for the first time since 28 February. New Zealand premier Jacinda Ardern announced nearly all lockdown restrictions were being lifted as no new cases had been reported for over 14 days.

Speaking to BBC’s Today programme, Michael Baker said New Zealand was able to “extinguish all chains of transmission” by banning foreign arrivals, testing and contact tracing and imposing an “intense lockdown”.

New Zealand restricted travel early on to only allow residents returning from overseas in and required those entering the country to observe a strict 14-day quarantine.

“I’m shocked at the failure of the western world to assess the risk properly and act accordingly. We were taking our lead from the US and the UK and the World Health Organisation – the advice was wrong, basically.

“Just in the nick of time, we looked to Asia and we followed their models which was treating this more like a SARS virus and going for elimination, and less like an influenza where you can’t contain it,” he said.

“I think the problem was, we had the influenza pandemic plan, which is really a mitigation approach, so we had to turn that on its head and instead of gradually increasing your controls as a pandemic gets worse, you throw everything at it at the beginning and you extinguish it.

“That’s what they did in mainland China and that’s what we did in New Zealand, and it works. I am actually really surprised that the UK is not doing the same thing. You have all the elements in place to eliminate the virus – you’re managing your borders, you have experience now with lockdown, you’re doing testing and contact tracing – you could eliminate this virus quite rapidly.”

Mr Baker recommended that the UK continue imposing a “very intense lockdown for four to six weeks” for the UK and to carry on testing and contact tracing as the lockdown lifts.

He noted that many people who would be entering the UK now would be coming from countries with a lower infection rate, adding that it was “odd” for the UK to require them to quarantine for 14 days without other lockdown measures in place.

The UK government is forging ahead with further easing of the lockdown restrictions, as the government announced that zoos and non-essential retail shops in England will be allowed to reopen from Monday.

Boris Johnson is expected to announce more changes to the lockdown as pressure builds to reopen the economy.

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