Dr Liz Gordon: A change of Covid policy: from elimination to containment


Under the ‘go hard and go fast’ policy that the government has previously adopted in order to pursue its Covid elimination strategy, opportunities for transmission within the community would be quashed by enforcing a lockdown until no further cases existed. It was an extraordinarily successful policy leading to zero cases within the community for more than 100 days. Well done us!

It has now been abandoned in favour of a policy that will now tolerate certain levels of community transmission in order to save economic activity and so people can lead normalised lives. Instead, the first line of defence will be the behaviour of people and the widespread wearing of masks, underpinned by inexorable contact tracing when cases do emerge.

We therefore now have a Covid policy that will not work as well as the previous policy and is unlikely to lead to a situation of zero cases from now on.  We can expect numbers to start to rise, hopefully quite slowly.  But Aucklanders are now free to roam around the country, and we to roam in Auckland, so it is only a matter of time until there are cases in different parts of the country.

That wonderful freedom of not having a deadly virus in our midst will likely soon be gone, even in the South Island. While I hope we will not face the size of outbreak suffered by our neighbour Australia, whereby the second ‘wave’ was so much bigger than the first, this may happen.

While Jacinda has talked of ‘drawing a circle’ around the Auckland cluster, this has not, in fact, been achieved. It is extremely likely that there are people who have not been identified as having Covid circulating in the community, unknowingly spreading the virus.

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So that’s my understanding. It is a grave turn of events which will almost certainly lead to more Covid deaths in Aotearoa. I do understand that the Covid is likely to be around for years (I am not hanging out for a vaccine), so I suppose at some point the policy needed to evolve beyond lockdown.

It’s just it has seemed to happen very quickly.  There is a level of giving in to inevitability of the virus as something that we will need to live among and with, that is a long way from the celebration of our Covid freedom from a few weeks ago.

We have moved from the policy of elimination to one of containment.  We now have to wait and see what this will mean for our country for the rest of the year.

Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society.  She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. Private wealth has triumphed over public health.

    For one shining moment we had something the whole world admired and wanted.

    While the rest of the world was spending billions on finding a cure to Covid-19, New Zealand already had found one. (So we had a relapse, So what. It shouldn’t have been cause for surrender).

    While the rest of the world was playing to empty stadiums enforced mass masking, New Zealanders were enjoying freedom to roam and meet each other to attend sports fixtures and freely enjoy the winter sun at parks and beaches

    Now the power of mammon has triumphed here as it has around the world and New Zealand has joined the swamp of cycling in and out of lockdowns. Small proprietors will not be saved, unemployment will still rise, conspiracies born of despair will grow, social discord will strengthen the forces of the far right, political violence will be spread and grow.

    Good sense and expert advice has been ignored in favour of saving the economy.

    At this juncture the question must be asked; ‘Whose economy?”

    For the very wealthy this is good news as their combined wealth has increased as everyone else has suffered.

    For the rich there is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.

    History repeats; just as in 1918 the virus will take a heavy toll on our indigenous and Pacifica communities and from here to spread the infection out to our covid free Pacific Island neighbours.

    • “Private wealth has triumphed over public health”
      And yet still Mike Hosking is not happy. Nothing short of a National government shall set him free

    • Yes. We all felt so good about this that we were prepared to keep putting people before money. In the end as with the end of neoliberalism it was just talk. Why is it that whenever the hope of uniting people is raised we end up being thrown back to the wolves?

    • Pat that was a bloody good phrase there.
      “Private wealth has triumphed over public health”.
      My wife was using a similar phrase depicting the loss of our environment over economy when she used; “The Economy Trumps Over The Environment”

  2. The Govt. has given in to economic pressure from the right wing death cultists. This is going to go pear shaped just before the election or thereabouts, the virus will be rampant within weeks and the genie will be out. The economy won’t recover as mass infections shut down business and sport, we will all be back to square one.

    A big win for Crusher here. Govt, opens up the economy under pressure, the virus starts spreading in overdrive, lots of sick people about, economy starts staggering once again, as people have to stay home.
    The people will loose faith in Govt. Covid response, and rightly so. Win, win, win for National/Act/NZF.
    But, I Hope I’m wrong.

  3. It was incompetence on Aderns part to ever shoot for elimination.
    Now we have trashed the economy and have fuck all to show for it.
    The only party talking any sense about
    is this is ACT.

      • You can call them whatever you want, it’s no skin off my nose.
        However it doesn’t change the fact that they are the only party taking a realistic stance on this.

          • I’m sorry but that is typical blind tribalism.
            The reality is that they have a different point of view.
            If you put it down to greed or evil, you are missing the opportunity to understand those who you oppose.
            Worse than that, by ascribing their actions to malice, you forfeit the opportunity to make a persuasive case for change.
            You are guilty of what all tribalists (left and right) do.

            • Jay ACT has shown a disregard for the widening poverty gap and degrading environment.

              Blind tribalism of the wealthy?

    • Give over recreating history.
      The economy (in all countries were trashed, due to 2008, ‘kicking the can’ and Sept 2019 repo market panic, to name just a few).
      So the only question would seem to be, which do you want? A buggered economy and less than a dozen deaths and the uber wealthy not being able to afford their third or fourth private jet. OR a buggered economy and the uber wealthy ‘living it up large’ and thousands of Kiwis dead.

      I know which of those to options I’d prefer.

      Yes the coalition made mistakes, but so did every other political party and Govt around the world. Even at home had we listened to the right wing and their presstitutes, we’d be in a WAY bigger mess today. Don’t FORGET that !
      However, our mistakes were MINISCULE compared to theirs.

      Jacinda has SADLY folded under media B.S, right wing pressure and the powers that be. For a brief moment the world admired and envied NZ. Now we’ll join the rest of the 200’ish countries in a death spiral. I hope the right wing mouthpieces and death cultists are happy and will be remembered by the country when they wonder who to vent their verbal/voting anger to.

    • Wont get any response to that here Helena, the Covid chicken littles just refuse to believe it. CDC reduced it to 6%, but you wont hear that from the pulpit at 1pm
      Italy also just reviewed their figures reduced to 12%.
      Plenty of information out there for those who want to look for it and aren’t hiding behind the couch from a virus, with their mask and a teddy bear, only venturing out when Daenerys the Unicorn rider appears at 1pm.

  4. Yet Jacinda has not told her team of 5 million that the strategy has changed. Why not? Is it really a team? Or is the concept of a team of 5 million purely bogus?

  5. Liz this is an excellent depiction of the current situation so we at CEAC are now calling on Labour leader to adopt the Chinese vision of combating/eliminating this virus.

    Wuhan (where the virus came from) is a city of 11 million and finally was mass tested of all citizens over 10 days to stamp out the virus and finally now last week they celebrated a virus free city again.

    “Kiwi’s can do this” can’t we?.

    • In Wuhan they have kept the children out of school for many months. Their future has depended on it. Schooling can be done at home with some organisation and applied resources.
      Schools have always been a hive of contagion in spite of the BS talked here lately about the virus not affecting children.

  6. Liz this is an excellent depiction of the current situation so we at CEAC are now calling on Labour leader to adopt the Chinese vision of combating/eliminating this virus.

    Wuhan (where the virus came from) is a city of 11 million and finally was mass tested of all citizens over 10 days to stamp out the virus and finally now last week they celebrated a virus free city again.

    “Kiwi’s can do this” can’t we?.

    • CG I am interested in your comment “Wuhan (where the virus came from)” as it is very unlikely to have originated from Wuhan.
      Do you have further information.

  7. What’s worse for the economy? One more week of lockdown in Auckland or letting covid loose on the whole country 3 weeks out from the school holidays? Come October NZ will make make Melbourne look like a teddy bears picnic. No one I know, or comment I read, across the entire spectrum of politics thought coming out of level 3 was a good idea. This is a vote loser for Labour, for the first time in my life I genuinely feel like not voting for anyone.

    • “No one I know, or comment I read, across the entire spectrum of politics thought coming out of level 3 was a good idea.” Greaseball

      Hi Greaseball.

      You are dead right about that. To come out of Level 3 is considered a bad idea right across the political spectrum.

      On RNZ afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, yesterday, all the panel guests, were of the opinion that going to level 2 was a bad idea.

      On the panel; 

      Dr David Welch, senior lecturer on computational evolution at the school of computer science at Auckland University.

      Heather Roy, former ACT party Deputy Leader.

      Rajorshi Chakraborti, Wellington writer, novelist and social commentator 

      Dr. Welch: We had level 4 You know that stopped it in its tracks and quite quickly….

      Jesse Mulligan: How confidant are you that we can get this cluster under control?

      Dr. Welch: Uh I have to say that I was keen that we stay at Level 3 for a little bit longer just to gain a bit more confidence….

      Jesse Mulligan: Would it be better to try to knock this bugger off and do another two weeks at level 4?

      Dr Welch: A little bit longer at level 3 would have been my preference….

      Heather Roy: Yeah, I think there certainly are trade offs. And the balance is important. And I can understand Aucklanders wanting to be out and about again, It’s really hard even being in level 3 lockdown. We are not used to having our freedoms curtailed in that way. But I do worry that level 2.5, which is a new level, it has almost become a level of its own, is confusing to people…..

      I do worry that level 2.5 was put in place because people in their heads want to be in level 2 but are being expected to do other things…..

      Rajorshi Chakraborti: We are all as a country holding our breath on this one. at this moment as a country we are in uncharted territory.. Where we haven’t stamped out community transmission but we are still going down a level……


      The sort of broad opposition across the political spectrum to dropping levels, while the virus is not contained, (which I think is reflected in this panel), it seems instead of building on this mood, the government have given in to the most nasty and mercenary corner of our society.

      When we could have achieved so much more. It’s a shame really.

  8. Multiple sour commenters here. Armchair theorists, would-be dictators, judgmental, passing themselves off as smart, practical people who care about others. Such people would fit the description that they ‘couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery’. Having a short break in a big bubble while others in the world try to pretend there isn’t a problem, or if there is that they won’t be affected, couldn’t last even in the supposed theme park of li’l ole EnZed. We can’t sink back and have BAU as usual, with everyone ignoring others distress beyond some charmed circle established for oneself and one’s country.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post Dr Liz. Containment it has to be, the movement of trade activity, paid work and employment in the economy that supplies our needs has to go on. We have to think of ourselves in a different way, like insects that go through numerous changes throughout their life cycle, before they are fully formed. We have to metamorphosise; we are perhaps in a lengthy period of ‘instar’. But wait, even the insects are in difficulties!

    Thinking about insects, their condition is worrying. Perhaps we should worry both about ourselves and our struggling environment. In short worry must be our middle name, we aren’t insects and we have the smart brain to do thinking past, present and future with, if we choose To Accept Our Mission as an advanced species.

    Meanwhile green (small ‘g’) drones drone on about James Shaw signing up for an advanced educational establishment studying green methods and systems, that will help to bring foreign investment here, bring knowledge here, perhaps some research here, and be doing something from the top end where there will indeed be trickle down. But this is Bad.

    I fear that this retrenchment into 20th century thinking, full of ideals and wishes with slow advancement overall will be the death of us. It certainly makes me as an older person, think kindly of suicide, no hyperbole there. It’s just my family that is the anchor to me of Lou Reed’s words – It’s such a perfect day, you keep me hanging on…but at the end he sort of sighs, “You’re gonna reap just what you sow”.

  9. When H2 gets sent in to ‘bat’ again … you know they’ve f%^k’d up.
    Damage Control and Refocusing the party just before an election is the only priority for labour.
    The ‘Grown ups’ have become the clean up crew for the Millenial Pretender Cosplay leadership.

    • Well said Denny’
      But would National do better?

      National do have younger ‘millenial pretender cosplay up front leadership’ like Bishop – Goldsmith and others like Reti, and Upston, McLay Willis and Simpson.

      Besides National have no track record for dealing with pandemics like this one, as it is ‘the mother of all pandemics, today infecting over 25 million people today, it was announced, so all will agree.

      • I’m hoping it ends up with a hung election.
        Purely for the fact that there isnt a difference between Labour and National. They’re pretty much the two sides of the same coin.
        If that happens it’ll be a situation where they’ll have to choose btw;
        Winston, NZF
        Maori Party

        What will the ‘mix’ be then?
        Labour aint going to govern alone so we can cut that bs out.

        Labour & Nats to keep the Maori’s out?

        Whoever hooks up with Winston, its going to be expensive. The Nats will take NZF at any cost, which will drive the price up for labour if they want him?
        Then there’s JT and the Maori’s.
        We all know Labour hate him. They did reject his application for membership a couple of times ay?
        They(MP) did declare a few days ago that they’re not going to get into bed with the Nats.
        So its going to be interest days ahead. The shine is starting to dull on the widdle princess by the day.

        Lets see how this plays out.

  10. The laws of physics, Fixed and unchangable govern everything we do. The laws of commerce. That ever adjustable antithesis to life the universe and everything has (as usual) won, over everything. I feel sad about the universal reaction to Covid.

  11. Liz is not correct. The elimination strategy has not changed. The strategy as set out in the Alert level framework has remained the same throughout, except now masks have been added. The L2 definition and health response have always provided for some community transmission. At L2 the contact tracing, testing and genome sequencing regime will be relied on to catch remaining cases and move us back to elimination of chains of transmission and hence to L1. This regime is much improved compared to the original lockdown. Just as we had to in the original lockdown, it will depend on people sticking with the rules.

    • “It will depend on people sticking with the rules”. And there’s the rub. Because compliance has been an issue right from the start, and increases exponentially when there are people in the community who are carrying the virus. Everyone is non-compliant pretty well. The research shows that we are all covid cheats. The sum of that puts us at risk when there is community transmission.

    • The elimination strategy has not changed.

      You can change labels or some of the methods, but the strategy has not changes. Sorry Liz.

  12. Until we know just where those wildcard infections came from then no strategy is safe as it will be incomplete.
    If it was brought in by frozen goods for example, the frozen goods need a new regime or no trading in them.
    Some of the statements being issued do not seem to align with Chinese findings, and China is the most successful state in dealing with the virus in highly populated cities.

  13. “It has now been abandoned in favour of a policy that will now tolerate certain levels of community transmission in order to save economic activity and so people can lead normalised lives.”

    In other words – another failure.

    If the government had been a) well informed and b) honest & frank with us, they would have told us that eliminating the virus was virtually impossible and so managing the spread of the virus was the best that could ever be achieved.

    Meanwhile the loss of life caused by the lockdown will eventually add up to a greater number than that taken by CV19. OECD countries are reporting an 80%+ reduction in the diagnosis and treatment of potentially curable but fatal diseases because people were either unable to too afraid to see a doctor.

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