Saturday, November 21, 2020

New Zealand uses science to avoid coronavirus lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at an Auckland mall, on the eve of her Labour Party's Oct. 17 election win — a vote of confidence in her handling of the pandemic. She lifted domestic restrictions last month after modeling showed the second Auckland outbreak was elimated. Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Rebecca Falconer

The World Health Organization praised New Zealand on Thursday for its "unique," targeted modeling technology and rapid COVID-19 genome sequencing that's seen the country avoid a lockdown last week despite having four current community cases.

Why it matters: Coronavirus restrictions are growing across the U.S. and Europe, while NZ neighbor South Australia is under a strict lockdown. Geneticist Mike Bunce told Axios that genomic sequencing was "key" to the NZ government's decision not to reimpose restrictions beyond a mask mandate for some travel, effective Thursday.

Mathematical and hypothetical modeling that can predict down to the suburb where the virus might spread is helping the Health Ministry "prioritise areas for focus in the public health response to cases and clusters," said NZ Public Health Director Caroline McElnay in an emailed statement.

The WHO said in a statement to Axios that whole genome sequencing has been an effective approach in assisting with contact tracing in several countries. NZ using it "may not be unique but combining it with their recently developed modeling data system is, and it appears at this stage to be part of an effective approach to helping reduce and control community transmission.  Read more >>