New Zealand can get through COVID-19 winter, says expert

By Li Huizi


New Zealand’s medical system could handle the COVID-19 pandemic as the country is heading into a colder winter with increasing influenza risks, a New Zealand infection expert said.

“New Zealand is heading into winter. The big worry is the influenza season,” said David Murdoch, dean of the University of Otago (Christchurch campus) and co-leader of The Infection Group under the university, on Monday.

New Zealand reported no active cases of COVID-19 on Monday.

“Having no active cases for the first time since February 28 is certainly a significant mark in our journey but as we’ve previously said, ongoing vigilance against COVID-19 will continue to be essential,” said a statement of the Ministry of Health.

June marks the start of winter in New Zealand, a season which usually sees the highest number of respiratory virus infections in a year.

“What we don’t know is what happens if COVID-19 corresponds with influenza and at least it would confuse things which means more people are unwell,” he told New Zealand Messenger.

“The northern hemisphere is getting warmer and viruses don’t tend to like the warmer climate as well. So that would help resolving the outbreaks,” Murdoch said.

“I don’t know whether there’s a risk of somebody having both infections at once. Getting the influenza vaccine this year is very important,” said the professor whose main research interests are epidemiology, specifically diagnosis and prevention of respiratory tract infections.

Murdoch said he was confident the New Zealand medical system could handle the pandemic.

“The country has had a pandemic plan for quite a few years. So there has been preparation. We all thought influenza was the most likely virus, but a lot of the principles and the pandemic plan apply to other infections, so the key parts of that can be adapted for this,” he said.

However, this sort of pandemic potentially could overwhelm any system if it was really bad, Murdoch added.

New Zealand is aiming to eliminate COVID-19 despite challenges posed by the winter season, the Ministry of Health said on Friday.

“The government is aiming for elimination of the COVID-19 virus or as close as possible to elimination, which will be backed up by intense surveillance to detect re-emergence of the virus, and prompt a public health response if new cases are found,” said a spokesperson from the ministry.

According to the ministry, more than 1.744 million flu vaccines have been distributed nationwide to general practices, pharmacies, occupational health providers, district health boards and other vaccinators this year. Over 800,000 eligible people have been vaccinated so far this year, compared with just over 700,000 in 2019.