Public Health Expert

Five Potential Enhancements of Covid-19 Outbreak Control in Aotearoa NZ - Public Health Expert

Aug 20, 2021

Prof Nick Wilson, Dr Jennifer Summers, Dr Leah Grout, Prof Michael Baker* Successful control of the current Covid-19 outbreak in NZ is looking feasible but many challenges remain. Therefore to maximise the chances of returning to elimination status and improve our resilience to future outbreaks, we propose the following potential enhancements: (i) develop a robust system to allow for region-specific Alert Levels; (ii) mandate QR code scanning; (iii) expand mask use requirements to all essential workers; (iv) greatly prioritise vaccination of essential workers; and (v) consider the suspension or minimisation of all incoming international passenger flights during the outbreak.   Evidence revealed by the Prime Minister yesterday indicates a relatively recent source of the current outbreak in Auckland to a case in an MIQ facility (via genomic testing). This situation improves the prospects for successful identification of the chains … Read More

Five lessons for Aotearoa NZ from the current COVID-19 outbreak in New South Wales - Public Health Expert

Aug 13, 2021

Dr Leah Grout, Dr Jennifer Summers, Dr Amanda Kvalsvig, Prof Michael Baker, Prof Nick Wilson* Australia has generally succeeded in eliminating community transmission of the pandemic virus SARS-CoV-2, but the Greater Sydney region is currently facing a large COVID-19 outbreak, driven by the Delta variant. The New South Wales Government is struggling to control the outbreak and the grim situation holds a number of lessons for NZ. On 15 June 2021, a 60-year-old airport limo driver who was involved in transporting international aircrew to and from Sydney Airport tested positive for COVID-19 and was confirmed as a case on 16 June with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing (1, 2). A household contact subsequently tested positive (3) and case numbers quickly began to increase (see Figure 1). Genome sequencing revealed that the outbreak was driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant, … Read More

A Smokefree Aotearoa – could making tobacco products available only through community pharmacies help us get there? - Public Health Expert

Aug 12, 2021

Richard Edwards, Louise Marsh, Lindsay Robertson, Frederieke Petrović-van der Deen, Nick Wilson, Janet Hoek* In this blog we discuss the arguments for and against one of the proposals included in the Smokefree 2025 Action Plan Discussion Document that the sale of smoked tobacco products could be restricted solely to community pharmacies after the number of retail outlets selling these products are greatly reduced, and sales are no longer allowed in dairies, convenience stores, petrol stations and supermarkets. The health burden from tobacco smoking in Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) is massive – with an estimated 4790 (95% uncertainty interval [UI]: 4510 to 5100) premature deaths in 2019 alone.1 The total health loss (including morbidity) in 2019 was 116,000 (95%UI: 108,000 to 125,000) disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).1 Smoking causes substantial health inequities and results in poorer health for Māori.2 3 Despite their enormous … Read More

New e-liquid flavour restrictions: Potential impacts on young people and people who smoke - Public Health Expert

Aug 10, 2021

Janet Hoek, Nick Wilson, Richard Edwards, Andrew Waa* From today (11 August 2021), Aotearoa New Zealand’s Smoke-free Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Act 2020 will restrict the e-liquid flavours available at generic retail outlets, such as convenience stores. This measure responded to sustained concerns about the rising prevalence of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) use among young people, many of whom find e-liquid flavours very appealing. At the same time, some argue that allowing all retail outlets to sell diverse flavours could foster switching from smoking to ENDS use and accelerate progress towards the Smokefree 2025 goal. In this blog, we discuss flavour restrictions and their potential impact on people who smoke and those who neither smoke nor use vaping products. In May 2018, the District Court ruled that the HEETS tobacco sticks used in Philip Morris International’s … Read More

Running into Trouble: COVID-19 in Japan during the Tokyo Olympics - Public Health Expert

Jul 30, 2021

Dr Leah Grout, Dr Jennifer Summers, Prof Nick Wilson, Prof Michael Baker * The 2020 Olympic Games were originally postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The delayed event has now opened, with the opening ceremonies held on 23 July 2021 and competitions scheduled to take place through 9 August 2021. In this blog we look at the situation in Japan, as compared to NZ, and discuss lessons for nations considering hosting large events with international attendees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here we consider the many public health implications of the decision to hold the Olympic and Paralympic Games in the middle of a global pandemic. These impacts include direct effects on the host country and city, effects on the attending athletes and staff themselves, and the indirect effects on global health and equity. Lessons from this event are also discussed. Read More

Hearing loss and social isolation – the silent burden - Public Health Expert

Jul 26, 2021

Feature image: this picture was chosen as it illustrates two elderly people in each other’s company. Tying in with the theme of hearing loss and social isolation, this depicts the importance of connection to each other and the world in which we live. Charlotte Gordon* Untreated hearing loss is a large direct cause of disability and is associated with increased risk of social isolation, depression and anxiety. Māori are at risk of greater unmet needs in hearing health care in Aotearoa New Zealand, which can contribute to greater inequities. This blog argues that significant changes are needed in order to increase access to hearing healthcare and to reduce the risk and consequences of social isolation. As humans, a fundamental part of our being is rooted in connection. That is connection to others and connection to the world in which we … Read More

The alarms are flashing red: Five reasons to upgrade our Alert Level system before the next Covid-positive traveller visits a major city - Public Health Expert

Jul 14, 2021

Amanda Kvalsvig, Nick Wilson, Cheryl Davies, Carmen Timu-Parata, Virginia Signal, Michael G. Baker Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ’s) Alert Level system worked well in 2020, but the Covid-19 landscape is changing and the system needs to change with it to keep NZ ahead of the pandemic.  In this blog we summarise our just-published recommendations for strengthening the Alert Level system and describe the benefits of an upgraded system: to better protect us from outbreaks, avoid lockdowns, help us transition to a post-vaccination future, support prevention of other respiratory disease epidemics, and uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi. On 19-21 June 2021 NZ experienced a critical incident in which a traveller with Delta-variant Covid-19 infection visited numerous crowded indoor venues in Wellington. The visitor only transmitted the infection to their partner who was travelling with them, and NZ was spared what might have … Read More

What’s the right Covid-19 risk to live with – an Australian perspective - Public Health Expert

Jul 14, 2021

Blog syndicated with permission from “The Pursuit” at Melbourne University, Australia By Professor Tony Blakely, Dr Tim Wilson and Associate Professor Vijaya Sundararajan, University of Melbourne As Australia looks toward opening its international borders, new virus modelling provides scenarios that can help us decide what’s the right risk to tolerate. As Australia inches up its vaccine rollout, the question of when the country can open up has become more pressing. Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Federal Government’s four-phase plan. Phase 1 involves vaccinating, preparing and piloting opening up, before moving onto Phase 2’s post-vaccination plans, through Phase 3 and onto Phase 4 when life becomes relatively normal. It’s the transition to Phase 2 that’s critical – as it’s supposedly underpinned by a vaccination coverage threshold which means Australia can open up its borders to … Read More

The changing COVID-19 situation in Taiwan – what can NZ learn from Taiwan’s latest outbreak? - Public Health Expert

Jul 13, 2021

Jennifer Summers, Leah Grout, Michael Baker, Amanda Kvalsvig, Nick Wilson* (author details*) We previously published an assessment of Taiwan’s extremely effective response to COVID-19 during 2020. However, a recent surge of community cases in northern Taiwan from April 2021 onwards has resulted in an increasing mortality rate, with large scale restrictions imposed to bring the outbreak under control.  This COVID-19 outbreak in Taiwan serves as a reminder to other jurisdictions, including NZ, of the threat posed by COVID-19 and its more infectious variants. We therefore recommend a range of short-term and long-term upgrades to NZ’s pandemic defences that we believe the Government needs to consider. Taiwan learned from its experiences with SARS in 2003 and developed a comprehensive pandemic plan designed to be adapted to future emerging communicable diseases. Part of this pandemic plan involved building up the infrastructure and … Read More

“Nudging” to improve QR scanning and mask wearing to protect us all during a pandemic - Public Health Expert

Jul 12, 2021

Janet Hoek, Philip Gendall, Nick Wilson (author details*) A feature of Aotearoa New Zealand’s COVID-19 elimination strategy is the rapid identification and then management of any COVID-19 cases arising from border system failures. Within the community, high QR code scanning rates enable rapid identification of contacts while wearing masks in indoor public settings, such as on public transport, reduces the risk of virus transmission. Yet scanning and mask wearing rates are variable, rising in response to immediate threats and falling off when those threats appear to diminish. While probably desirable to mandate these behaviours in high risk settings at raised Alert Levels, this blog considers the supplementary role for social marketing and environmental strategies that could “nudge” people towards these protective behaviours. The re-emergence of COVID-19 in several Australian states and territories, and the recent threat of community transmission in … Read More