Coronavirus: Complacency worries as Covid-19 remains blocked at border
After numerous official warnings, coronavirus testing numbers are up but health authorities remain concerned Kiwis may have become too complacent about the risk of a Covid-19 resurgence.
A psychologist has cautioned it could be difficult to motivate people to take the necessary steps after successfully eliminating the disease from the community and the ongoing effort at the border.
Until the past two days, testing numbers had been regularly below – often well below - the 4000 a day considered the target by Health Minister Chris Hipkins. Most people also appear to have little enthusiasm for the NZ Covid Tracer app.
Hipkins brought up his concerns again at a briefing on Thursday. “We simply cannot afford to be complacent,” he said.
It wasn’t “scaremongering” to say the country’s success against Covid-19 and the freedoms being enjoyed as a result “could all change and it could all change very quickly”.
“That is a statement of fact, and we only need to look at Australia to see that,” Hipkins said.
“Our best chance of preserving the gains that we have all made, of keeping the freedoms that we all now enjoy is to stay ever vigilant.”
On Thursday, Hipkins urged households to add face masks to their emergency kits, and be prepared to use them if needed. He also announced a trial would be carried out in Rotorua of a Bluetooth-enabled card technology designed to help with contact tracing, which is also the purpose of the app.
Dr Dougal Sutherland, a clinical psychologist at Victoria University of Wellington, said the problem with the app was that most people weren’t in the habit of scanning a QR code whenever they entered places such as shops or restaurants.
“Without sufficient motivation we’re unlikely to change this behaviour,” he said.
Finding a realistic “why” to use the app while Covid-19 was stopped at the border was really hard.
“People need a reason to change their behaviour, otherwise we will just do what we have always done,” Sutherland said.
“My sense is that people’s perception of the risk is that it’s not very imminent for us in New Zealand.” But he also wondered whether the Covid-19 outbreak in Melbourne might have had some impact.
Officials needed to keep saying the app was important, but they also needed to be looking for a much easier option, which the Bluetooth card could provide.
A public awareness campaign about masks to be run in coming weeks could help people find a reason to do what was being suggested, Sutherland said.
Getting people to buy masks could be easier than getting people to use the app because they only needed to buy the masks once. But he also pointed out many people never got round to getting earthquake preparedness kits, even though they intended to.
Professor Michael Baker from the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, Wellington, said it was easy for people to become complacent.
“Something seems to have disappeared as a threat in day-to-day life and they are returning to more usual concerns,” he said.
“I think we’re probably less worried because we’re not seeing this virus every day. We’re not seeing friends and family going to hospital with it.”
On Thursday, Hipkins said he was “very heartened” by testing numbers in the past two days. On Wednesday, laboratories processed about 5000 tests, of which about 300 were in managed isolation, with more than 4700 in the community. On Tuesday, 4140 tests were processed, 3655 from the community.
Asked why he thought testing numbers were up, he said he would hope people were listening to what authorities were saying, “which is if you’re offered a test please go and get a test”.
He also noted the considerable recent publicity about testing, and promised: “We’ll keep talking about it.”
A pop-up testing centre in a supermarket carpark in Queenstown on Tuesday carried out 1076 tests after the town was visited in early July by a man who tested positive for Covid-19 when he arrived in South Korea.
At the same briefing, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said further pop-up testing would be carried out around the country in coming days and weeks “just as part of our awareness raising, keeping the numbers up, and particularly if we find areas that have got lower testing rates”.
He also took the opportunity to “give a plug” for the contact tracing app. “The key to successful contact tracing is being able to contact people in the first place, and therefore simply downloading and registering with the app and giving us at the Ministry of Health... up-to-date contact information is in itself incredibly helpful.”