Strengthening Our Public Health Response
The threat from COVID-19 will be present for years to come and other pandemic threats will require responses in the future.
National recognises we must also prepare a second line of defence, behind our border, so that in the event of any limited outbreak, cases can be identified, traced and isolated quickly.
With strong contact tracing and a more sophisticated testing and compliance structure we can minimise the impact on New Zealanders of further incursions. We will protect those vulnerable to the disease and the wider population from the major impact of outbreaks.
As outlined in the Verrall Report provided to the Ministry of Health on contact tracing, outbreaks can be controlled through rapid contact tracing. Further, contact tracing, when used alongside other public health measures has more than 90 per cent efficacy against COVID-19, which makes it as effective as many vaccines.
This report, and the examples of high quality contact tracing and testing systems internationally, provide confidence that similar systems in New Zealand could allow for less intrusive lockdowns in the event of an isolated outbreak.
A functional response system requires coordination at the border and the ability to rapidly deploy contact tracing and testing throughout the country if we are to expel the risk of future outbreaks.
However, the system in past months has not worked as it should. While frontline workers at the border have been doing their best in difficult conditions, they, like the public, have been let down by a cobbled together approach.
Our health system will adapt to provide greater capability in the event of an outbreak. National will ensure our medical systems are adequately resourced with equipment such as ventilators to provide appropriate treatment solutions in the event an outbreak.
In addition, National will enhance the contact tracing system and develop a long-term plan for managing public health threats such as COVID-19.
Contact tracing is one of the most effective tools we have against COVID-19.
The success of a high-capacity rapid contact tracing service has also been seen in South East Asian countries such as Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan in addressing outbreaks as noted by the New Zealand Initiative’s Leonard Hong.
The first line of defence must be strong border management, but ensuring a high-quality contact tracing system is a vital second line. National would implement the following:
Scale up contact tracing
Ensuring consistency and capacity within the contact tracing system is critical to achieving the goals of a rapid contact tracing system that would help manage any isolated incidents of COVID-19 beyond the border and to limit the need of intensive lockdowns across the country.
The recent examples of contact tracing from the South Auckland cluster identified on 11 August 2020 showed that, while contact tracing could be undertaken, there were questions about the time it took to identify and notify contacts. If New Zealand is to be able to effectively eliminate COVID-19 from the country we should immediately look to scale up the capacity of contact tracing to enhance speed reliability within the system.
- Ensure the response to COVID-19 and other pandemic threats is coordinated nationally to provide for a more comprehensive contact tracing system.
- Scale up the contact tracing capability by increasing the numbers of people available to work on contact tracing to ensure contacts can be identified, traced and isolated quickly.
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