By Siouxsie Wiles 22/03/2020 2


For the last few weeks, I’ve been urging you to prepare yourself, your family, business, and community for Covid-19. Now it’s time for real action. 

Yesterday the director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced another 13 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, bringing our total to date to 52. Those cases include two that are potentially from community transmission.

Shortly afterwards, prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced a four stage alert system for Covid-19. The alert system sets out how each and every one of us can stop the spread of this virus in New Zealand. Even though most of us will only experience a mild to moderate version of Covid-19, many of our whānau, friends and colleagues may not. That’s why it’s so important we take this virus seriously, and all play our part. Up till now, we’ve been at alert level one. For most people this has been business as normalish, but with an awful lot more handwashing.

But yesterday the prime minister moved the whole country up to alert level two (reduce contact). She made it clear different parts of the country could move up and down the levels at different times. That means Auckland could be at level two while Wellington moves to level three, and vice versa. Or we could be at level two today and move to level three tomorrow, or the day after – then back to two again at some point in the future.

The alert system sets out how we can stop the spread of this virus in New Zealand. To see how important our actions are, I want you to imagine you are part of an ever-expanding chain. Because people can spread the virus for a few days before they have any symptoms, each person who contracts the virus can unwittingly pass it on to several of their whānau, friends and colleagues. Then each one of them can unwittingly pass it on to several of their whānau, friends and colleagues.

The good news is, we can do things that will reduce the chances of us spreading the virus. That means we can break these chains and potentially stop hundreds or even thousands of people getting Covid-19. Check out The Spinoff cartoonist Toby Morris’ excellent illustration to understand how individual discipline can have an outsize impact.

What does it mean for us to be at Alert Level 2?

Level two is about keeping a safe distance from people outside of our household. You should be aiming to stay two metres apart at all times, but absolutely spending less than 15 minutes in that “close contact” zone. It means no more BBQs, parties, or social events, if you can’t stay one-to-two metres apart from other people. It means as many of us as possible need to be working from home. It also means every business where people can’t work from home needs to do things like stagger shifts and lunch breaks to reduce the amount of contact people have with each other.

If you must go to work, start keeping a diary of where you have been and who you’ve spent more than 15 minutes with. That way, if you contract the virus, you can help health officials trace, contact and isolate everyone you’ve been close to. Several countries have brought in apps that help with this. Hopefully we’ll have one for us soon too. It’s also important we limit domestic travel. Please don’t travel around the country unless it’s absolutely necessary, as this will help us limit the spread of the virus.

At level two, everyone over the age of 70 should stay at home as much as possible. That means no visits from the grandchildren, or other friends and family. It doesn’t mean people can’t drop things off, or wave from a safe distance. I know this is going to be really hard – so please also keep up regular social contact by phoning, skyping, facetiming, or other communications devices.

Get creative! You could have an online dinner party or coffee catchup. If you’re a family where grandchildren and grandparents are living in the same house, then it’s a good idea to take kids out of school and ask other members of the family to stay home too. If they can’t, they need to be very careful and wash their hands and preferably have a shower and change their clothes when they return home.

Level two is also the point at which those of us with certain medical conditions should also stay home if possible. Because this is such a new virus, we still aren’t absolutely clear all the medical conditions which put people more at risk, but the list so far includes respiratory conditions such as COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and perhaps severe asthma, diabetes, heart conditions, high blood pressure, kidney problems, and those undergoing treatment for cancer and blood conditions. While we don’t yet know if pregnant women are badly impacted, it’s probably best for them to stay home, too. As with those over 70, if you are living in the same house as someone who has one of these conditions, keep the kids home if possible.

And if it wasn’t already clear – absolutely, unequivocally do not go to work if you are unwell, even if you think it’s just a cold. Call ahead at your GP if you experience a fever, dry cough, or breathlessness. Keep washing your hands when you’ve touched surfaces touched by other people. Try not to touch your face. And keep up with your non-contact greetings. If you aren’t sure what to try instead of a hug, Toby Morris has you covered!  


2 Responses to “What does ‘level two’ mean – and why does it matter?”

  • The four stage alert system is helpful and so are the great graphics in this blog. But what is critical now is clearer strategic thinking about NZ going all out for the eradication strategy or for the mitigation strategy. In this blog that Tony Blakely & I just published (https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/the-maths-and-ethics-of-minimising-covid-19-deaths), we outline for the Australian context the estimated deaths and life years lost from the two different strategies.

    Eradication is still best for Australia – even considering a relatively low 25% chance of success for Australia’s more advance epidemic. With this strategy we estimate 100,000 to 212,500 ‘expected’ life years lost in the Australian population.

    Under the alternative ‘flattening the curve’ (mitigation) strategy we estimate 125,000 to 275,000 life years lost. With this strategy we also outline the potential large benefits of special protection for older people and for those with chronic diseases who are at highest risk of death.

    We plan to also do these estimates for NZ – which fortunately has a very much higher chance of achieving successful eradication than Australia has with its more advanced epidemic.

  • To further the discussion on COVID-19 control, in this just published blog we do the numbers for comparing the eradication strategy for COVID-19 in NZ over the ‘flatten the curve’ (mitigation) strategy:
    https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2020/03/23/the-maths-and-ethics-of-minimising-covid-19-deaths-in-nz/
    While eradication is clearly the best strategy from a health perspective – if it fails then we detail the key components of the mitigation strategy for reducing the death toll (ie, intensive protection of older people and those with chronic conditions).