by Conor Hill
One of the more intriguing aspects of Jacinda Ardern’s address to the nation on March the 21st was the suggestion that different parts of the country could be operating under different Covid-19 alert levels  at different points.
I haven’t heard too much elucidation of this, but it could be interesting to see what happens when the country shifts from Level 4. Will different regions go to different alert levels? And how could this affect Wellington?
The first thing is look at why a region would be at Level 2. The covid alert system identifies that if community transmission and clusters are not occurring, then Level 2 is more appropriate than Level 3. There are DHBs which have identified where all cases have come from. Some of these DHBs have no active clusters. And some of these DHBs have not had any new cases for 5 days. It would appear at first glance that these DHBs have a risk assessment more appropriate to Level 2.
The second thing to do is to define a region. A region probably has to make sense from a health, economic and policing point of view. It would be difficult to slice a DHB in half. It would also be hard to sever inextricably linked economies. Having Wellington, Porirua and the Kapiti Coast (CCDHB) and Hutt Valley at different alert levels would be hard to make work.
Finally a region would need to be policeable – a limited number of boundaries that could be policed through checkpoints.
So is there a part of the country that may meet these various criteria? I would say the region from Wellington to Taranaki does. This region encompasses the Capital and Coast, Hutt Valley, Mid Central, Wairarapa, Whanganui and Taranaki DHBs.
Across these six DHBs, the Covid statistics are very encouraging. As per yesterday’s updates , there have been 165 cases identified in this area, less than could be expected for its population. There have only been two clusters, both have which were identified early, and don’t appear to be increasing. Over the past week, only six cases have been confirmed in this entire area.
This part of the country appears to be at less risk than many other such as Auckland and much of the South Island. It appears that community transmission is not occurring and neither are clusters breaking out. Therefore by the government’s own guidance, Level 3 may not be appropriate in these areas.
Economically these regions are closely linked, and from a logistics point of view, you’d only have to put up checkpoints on maybe a dozen or so roads to seal this area off from the rest of the country.
Of course difficulties remain. Is our testing regime strong enough to give good guarantees? Is our contact tracing up to scratch? Are there asymptomatic yet infectious carriers out there? But for at least some of these questions, it may actually help to have one part of the country operating at a different level to the rest of it.
I’m not certain it’s a good idea, and the communication and political aspects of it would be tricky, but the possibility of the lower North Island operating at a looser alert level than the rest of the country is there.