Tony Blakely: Epidemiologist accuses NZ of 'dragging the chain' on transtasman bubble
Heather du Plessis-Allan Drive
New Zealand could now open up quarantine-free travel with several Australian states, a leading epidemiologist in Melbourne says."It is safe for New Zealand to have quarantine-free arrivals from most of Australia," Professor Tony Blakely, a public health medicine specialist at Melbourne University, told the Herald."In fact, it has moved beyond that and New Zealand is now dragging the chain, compared to many states in Australia allowing quarantine-free arrival of Kiwis."But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made no apologies for having a lower tolerance for cases than Australia, nor was she satisfied about the threshold for shutting down inter-regional travel in Australia.There were only eight cases in Australia in the past 24 hours, most of them imported quarantine cases, while "Covid hotspot" status is set to be lifted tomorrow in Victoria and New South Wales.Blakely said Victoria and New South Wales had already met the elimination criteria of no community cases from an unknown source for 28 days, while Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia, Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory had long achieved it.As of tomorrow, all states and territories were allowing quarantine-free travel other than South Australia (WA has risk-based home quarantine rules)."South Australia will – I strongly suspect – regain elimination status soon," Blakely said."States that have delayed [quarantine-free travel] have been playing politics, not science. New Zealand is now in that camp, in my view, and has no reason to not join a travel bubble with all states and territories in Australia other than SA, for now."The bubble would not only provide an injection for tourism and the economy in general, but it would also free up about 40 per cent of the beds in New Zealand managed isolation and quarantine facilities.Blakely said any new mystery cases in the community would see a state or country drop out of the transtasman bubble until Covid is stamped out again.Professor Tony Blakely, a public health medicine specialist at Melbourne University, says New Zealand is dragging the chain on the transtasman bubble. Photo / SuppliedBut Ardern said there needed to be stricter rules around restricting travel from a "Covid hotspot" because of the risk of a Covid-carrier travelling to a Covid-free state and then flying to New Zealand.The hotspot criteria was previously 30 cases in three days, but Ardern said that was too many."You might get into a place where we're free of community transmission, but actually it's as important for us to recognise what will happen if and when cases arise, because they will and they do."She agreed that the ball was in New Zealand's court, as Kiwis could already travel to NSW, ACT, NT and Victoria without having to quarantine."They've already opened up, so from their perspective, it's already done and dusted. We're the easy partner in this. We have a lower tolerance for cases."A bubble should have domestic borders acting as a buffer, and operate in a way that didn't leave travellers stranded, she added."We don't want to yo-yo in and out of travel with Australian states."Asked if a bubble might still be out of reach if Australia was Covid-free but those hotspot rules were still too loose, she said: "That's a hypothetical we're not in yet."She added that traces of the virus were found at a Melbourne wastewater facility 10 days ago.Blakely also suggested allowing fewer days in quarantine for overseas arrivals from countries with low levels of infection.A similar approach has also been suggested by public health experts in New Zealand - dubbed a risk-based "traffic-light" border system - which includes a pre-departure negative test and quarantine period for travellers from high-risk countries.But Ardern has repeatedly said Kiwis need to be able to exercise their right to come home.
Tony Blakely: Trans-Tasman travel bubble has popped already
Heather du Plessis-Allan Drive
Kiwis arriving in Australia have been forced into quarantine after travelling outside the specified states included in the trans-Tasman bubble.Five travellers from New Zealand have arrived in Adelaide after passing through interstate airports, according to ABC.They flew from New Zealand to Sydney but have been detained in Adelaide after arriving unexpectedly on a domestic flight and have been forced into hotel quarantine, South Australia's Premier Steven Marshall said at a press conference this afternoon.Two arrived over the weekend, two more this morning.The current trans-Tasman bubble arrangement started on Friday and only allows New Zealanders to travel to New South Wales and the Northern Territory without having to go through quarantine. All other states are exempt.However Marshall said the SA state government was now considering its border arrangement with New Zealand."We are looking very closely at the arrangements with regards to our borders with New Zealand," he said."They've done extraordinarily well and we're hopeful that we might be able to lift that border restriction with New Zealand when it's safe to do so."SBS reported that at least 90 New Zealand travellers have flown to Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania after arriving in Sydney.About 65 people have gone on into Victoria since the Australian travel bubble began - with only 10 of them not located.About 23 are reported to have also slipped into Western Australia.However Kiwis arriving back in New Zealand from Australia are still required to go into managed isolation quarantine for two weeks.
Tony Blakely: Can New Zealand learn anything from Australia's lockdown?
The Mike Hosking Breakfast
Over the last couple of weeks, many Kiwis have looked across the Tasman at Victoria with the thought of "that would never happen to us".But as we begin our second wave, should we be taking advice from the situation in Australia a way or how, and how not to, act.Epidemiologist at Melbourne University Tony Blakely told Mike Hosking the compulsory wearing of masks in Victoria has worked."Studies have shown up to a 85% reduction by wearing masks."The numbers have started to some down fast since wearing masks, there's very strong evidence they work. They really are a no brainier."LISTEN ABOVE
Tony Blakely on Victoria's strict new Covid-19 lockdown
Heather du Plessis-Allan Drive
Victoria has recorded 429 new infections overnight, with case numbers nearing 12,000 across the virus-plagued state.Thirteen more people have died — a man in his 60s, two men and a woman in their 70s, two men in their 80s and five women and two men in their 90s.Eight of the 13 new deaths were linked to known outbreaks in aged care facilities. They take the state’s death toll to 136.Of the 429 new infections, 36 were linked to outbreaks and 393 were under investigation.There are 416 Victorians in hospital, including 35 in intensive care. A total of 1195 healthcare workers are infected with the virus.AGED CARE OUTBREAKS139 cases at St Basil’s Home for the Aged, Fawkner130 cases at Epping Gardens Aged Care, Epping106 cases at Estia Aged Care Facility, Ardeer101 cases at Kirkbrae Presbyterian Homes, Kilsyth88 cases at Estia Aged Care Facility, Heidelberg65 cases at Glendale Aged Care Facility, Werribee63 cases at Menarock Life Aged Care, Essendon61 cases at Aurrum Aged Care Facility, Plenty58 cases at Outlook Gardens Aged Care facility, Dandenong North55 cases at Baptcare Wyndham Lodge, Werribee.New cases have also emerged at Lilydale Lodge Aged Care Facility, Estia Health Aged Care Facility in Glen Waverley and BlueCross The Boulevard in Mill Park.KNOWN OUTBREAKS185 cases at Al-Taqwa College, Truganina148 cases at Bertocchi Smallgoods, Thomastown129 cases at Somerville Retail Services, Tottenham86 cases at JBS, Brooklyn77 cases at Australian Lamb Company, Colac71 cases at Melbourne Health Royal Park Campus36 cases at Woolworths Distribution Centre Mulgrave20 cases at Golden Farms Poultry in Breakwater21 cases at Catholic Regional College in Sydenham31 cases at Linfox warehouse in Truganina30 cases at St Vincent’s HospitalThe Health Department also confirmed it was investigating COVID-19 cases linked to Qantas freight, the Northern Hospital Intensive Care Unit, Melbourne United basketball club, Bestway Dandenong, Jayco Dandenong, and Martin and Pleasance health foods in Port Melbourne.
Tony Blakely: New Zealand must do more to protect Covid-free status
The Sunday Session with Francesca Rudkin
A New Zealand epidemiologist working in Australia says we're not doing enough to protect our Covid-free status.Four people have escaped from managed isolation facilities in the past week, with the most recent case yesterday seeing a man break a window to get out from a hotel in Auckland. Melbourne University Professor Tony Blakely told Francesca Rudkin he doesn't know why we tolerate people leaving quarantine.He says moving to New Zealand is a privilege and its something we should be guarding it closely."And two weeks of really strict, enforced quarantine should be just the norm. "These escapes from quarantine are perplexing to watch from afar."New Zealand is a "poster child" for elimination, and the country cannot risk losing that status, Blakely says. He says that our status is very different from Melbourne, which has just locked down for six weeks after a massive spike in cases. Blakely says he is amongst the health experts advocating that Victoria adopt a method of elimination. "New Zealand's done it, Taiwan's done it, so it is possible."
Tony Blakely: Expert urges more security needed at isolation facilities
Heather du Plessis-Allan Drive
An expert says that security at New Zealand's managed isolation and quarantine facilities isn't up to scratch.Countdown in Victoria St West was today closed and being cleaned after a newly-arrived 32-year-old with the virus last night snuck out of managed isolation and spent 20 minutes there.While CCTV footage from within the supermarket has confirmed there was no close contact between the man and any staff or customers during his time there, the store was ordered shut today, with a security guard turning people away.The man, who is now facing charges, had been wearing a mask, but not for the whole 70 minutes he was away from the Stamford Plaza and in Auckland's CBD.It's the second person to escape a facility in a week, after a woman climbed over a fence on Saturday night.University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakeley told Heather du Plessis-Allan he's not advocating for prisons at the hotels, but we need to guard our elimination status."If that means needing to put up higher fences or allowing security guards to stop people, then so be it." For those who happened to be in the supermarket around the same time, the risk was probably small, said Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said."I'd take it he was wearing a mask at that point, which would be pretty important because there is a lot of source protection, and the chances of infecting people around him would've been greatly reduced," Baker said."You do have to consider some basic factors: how much contact did he have with local people? How long was he indoors and outdoors? Was he wearing a mask? All of these are very relevant."But if he was wearing a mask, and the amount of contact with people as very short, the risk of him affecting people around him will have been very low."Baker said such breaches should be kept in proportion, and used to improve processes, rather than as blaming exercises."This is something we are going to have to live with for a long time, so we've got to take a constructive approach, and not equate breaches with outbreaks, as they're two very different things."