COVID-19 modellers have queried Jacinda Ardern's move to lessen Auckland's lockdown, describing it as a roll of the dice for New Zealand's elimination strategy.
From Wednesday, 1.7 million residents in the Auckland region will shift to a level three lockdown after five weeks in the tough level four environment.
Level three allows for more businesses – including construction and manufacturing – to open, for schools to return, and for restaurants and cafes to serve takeaways.
Aucklanders are desperate for the shift, suffering through five lockdowns during the pandemic and enduring 117 days so far under stay-at-home orders since March 2020.
But with case numbers stuck in double digits and the continued emergence of cases that are infectious in the community, experts aren't sure the government has made the right call.
Academics Michael Plank and Shaun Hendy, COVID-19 modellers who have produced work for the government through the pandemic, say it's a “calculated risk”.
“A worrying few continue to test positive before being identified by contract tracers … We can't be confident that the Delta outbreak is contained until these become few and far between,” they write in The Conversation.
“It's absolutely crucial people continue to stick to their bubbles.
“The level of risk has reduced over the past five weeks but the danger has certainly not passed. We all need to resist the temptation to meet up with family or friends.”
The professors say new cases are highly likely outside Auckland's lockdown in the Waikato region after a remand prisoner, who subsequently tested positive, was bailed to a Whakatiwai home.
Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said his expectation was that cases, which have sat between 11 and 33 for almost three weeks, would “rumble along a bit” and then “we're expecting them to decline”.
Another respected voice, University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker, told Newsroom another “fairly likely” outcome was an upswing.
“Then it will be a real dilemma about whether to just stick with level three for several months until we've got very high vaccine coverage. To get enough people doubly dosed could take almost till Christmas,” he forecast.
That scenario would see New Zealand travel along a similar pathway, albeit on a lesser scale, to outbreaks in NSW and Victoria.
It is those situations that Ms Ardern has held up over the past month as the reason her government implemented the level four lockdown within hours of this outbreak first being identified, on August 17.
“The next couple of weeks are going to be absolutely crucial,” Dr Hendy told Radio NZ.Internet Explorer Channel Network