According to a new modelling released on Thursday (9 April), it was revealed that New Zealand’s early move to impose a lockdown might have saved the country from seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases.
On Thursday afternoon, the Government recorded only 29 new cases of the deadly coronavirus, but this figure could have been several hundreds now if no lockdown was implemented.
The other scenario could have seen about 200 new cases reported on Thursday, and probably 350 daily cases recorded around this time next week.
This prediction is based on the modelling by researchers at Te Pūnaha Matatini, New Zealand’s Centre of Research Excellence in Complex Systems and Data Analytics.
It also forecasted that the number of cases would continue to float under 50 for the remainder of April.
“We think the lockdown has had a significant effect, which means that our worst-case scenarios are no longer relevant, as long as we continue to be able to contain the virus,” said the centre’s director Professor Shaun Hendy.
He added, “Ultimately we have to follow the case numbers and these will always lag behind the time when the infections take place. But in our graph you can see that if we hadn’t gone into lockdown, then new case numbers would have been steadily rising since the end of March.”
“The fact that the actual case numbers have not risen shows that lockdown is having an effect. Next week we should have a good sense of how much of an effect and what this means for our lockdown.”
On 26 February, New Zealand confirmed its first case of the novel coronavirus, and it closed its borders on 19 March. Following that, the country imposed a complete lockdown on 26 March where 5 million of its population are not allowed to leave their homes, unless they want to get essential supplies or take short, local walks.
Additionally, all schools and non-essential services have also been asked to shut its doors. The country also declared a state of emergency and is at Level 4, which is the highest level, on the COVID-19 alert system.
As of Thursday, New Zealand has recorded 1,239 positive cases of COVID-19, with 317 recoveries.
In response to this situation, the country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, “What New Zealanders have done over the last two weeks is huge.”
“In the face of the greatest threat to human health we have seen in over a century, Kiwis have quietly and collectively implemented a nationwide wall of defence. We are on track to meet their most optimistic scenario. We are turning a corner. But to succeed, we need it to keep working,” she added.
She also referred to an earlier modelling which showed that New Zealand was initially on a similar route as Italy and Spain, and that the 205 cases recorded on 25 March could have increased to over 10,000 by now.
Mr Hendy explained that New Zealand’s decision to go into a lockdown before the cases rose high gave the country a chance that other countries no longer have.
“We may be able to eliminate the disease here before a vaccine comes along, which remains to be seen in Europe or the US, and even Australia,” he said.
He added, “What we can see is that lockdown measures similar to those we have used here have been successful in places like Norway, while countries that have had weaker policies, like Sweden for instance, have not fared as well. That should give us confidence that our approach has been the right one.”
Although the lockdown seems to be working in New Zealand’s favour, but Mr Hendy warned that the country should still be careful of a possible “bounce-back” in cases, since very few people have any immunity to the virus.
“The disease could be reintroduced from overseas or it may flare up again in parts of the country,” he said.
He continued, “If we lift the lockdown too early or slow down on our contact tracing and testing then this is a very real risk. This is even true in countries that have had the worst outbreaks. Everyone is going to have to be wary for some time.”
Situation in Singapore
Since 7 April (Tuesday), workplaces islandwide except those of essential services and key sectors are closed as part of a new suite of measures to curb further spread of the novel coronavirus in Singapore.
If that’s not all, schools and higher learning institutions are also closed and lessons have been moved online with full home-based learning.
Called the “circuit breaker”, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that these enhanced measures are taken to slow down or stop the local transmission of COVID-19. He added that such measures “will help reduce the risk of a big outbreak occurring” and “should also help to gradually bring our numbers down”.
“This circuit breaker will apply for one month, in the first instance,” Mr Lee noted.
He also urged Singaporeans to stay at home as much as possible, avoid socialising with others beyond their own household, and confining gatherings to those living in the same household.
“Avoid visiting even your extended families who are not staying with you, especially if they are elderly or vulnerable,” Mr Lee added.
People should also only leave their homes to carry out essential activities such as work for those in essential services and key economic sectors, buying groceries at markets, to take away food from restaurants and hawker centres, or “to exercise in the neighbourhood park, keeping a safe distance from others”, he stressed.
The Republic yesterday (9 Apr) recorded its highest daily number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to date, with the majority of the 287 cases traced to clusters at migrant worker dormitories and Mustafa Centre.
As for neighbouring Malaysia, the country imposed a Movement Control Order (MCO) from 18 March for an initial two weeks in order to contain the spread of COVID-19.
However, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin extended the MCO to 14 April as the number of cases were still on the rise.
But, the country saw a sign of hope yesterday (9 April) when it recorded 109 cases, which is the country’s lowest figure in nearly two weeks.
Adding to the good news, Malaysia also witnessed the number of daily recovered cases exceeding the number of new cases for two days in a row.
“There were 121 recoveries today, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 1,608 which is 38 percent of the total number of positive cases,” said Malaysia’s Health Ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah.
Although Malaysia recorded low number of positive cases in the last couple of days, Tan Sri Muhyiddin said on Friday afternoon in a live telecast that the MCO will be extended for another two week, up till 28 April.
He explained that the MCO has helped healthcare workers to contain the spread of the virus.
“If the trend continues to drop, we can curb it from spreading, but we cannot take it easy,” he said.
He added, “The extension is to allow health workers to curb the pandemic.”