Covid-19 Science and Policy Symposium written summary

The Covid-19 Science and Policy Symposium was held on 17 August 2020. The event took place as a Zoom webinar, bringing together nine international and national experts to analyse the latest science and New Zealand’s response to the virus.

Watch the presentations here.

Dr David Katz, Medical Doctor and Preventative Medicine Specialist, New York.

  • New Zealand is taking the “hiding” option. If there is no exposure, there can be no immunity. Gain herd immunity in a controlled way using voluntary measures based on personal health indicators.

Dr Jay Bhattacharya, Medical Doctor and Professor of Medicine, Stanford University

  • Lockdowns only delay the impact. Flatten the curve was an approach that spread out over time the number of people infected. Strong economies improve health, and the reverse is also true. Estimates NZ lockdown set NZ back 7 years in economic value, equal to one life year (reducing life expectancy from 82 to 81). Covid will not be eradicated.

Dr Byram Bridle, Viral Immunologist, The University of Guelph.

  • Provided a short summary of how immune systems work. Scientists are making unrealistic promises, and in some cases what constitutes a “successful” vaccine is being redefined. It takes 10 years to make a safe vaccine and 4 years is the quickest on record. There is no shortcut to safety. Testing will be problematic as the epidemic abates. Vaccines don’t work well in the elderly. Bridle is working on a ‘plug and play’ vaccine for future coronaviruses, so we are not caught out again.

Prof. Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology, University of Oxford.

  • Addresses the three myths of covid19: She says we can’t keep it out, it’s nothing like the threat to each of that we first feared, and that we can get herd immunity and are close to it. There is natural resistance to Covid19 from previous infections. Costs of lockdowns are delayed but more costs Advocates a careful form of the Swedish model. Accuses developed world of abandoning its ‘social contract’ with the developing world, by closing down borders, trade and interaction.

Dr Simon Thornley, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology at the University of Auckland

  • The mean age of Covid-related deaths is similar to life expectancy – indicating Covid is affecting those who may have otherwise died from other illnesses. No research can find benefits from or a disease response to lockdowns. Estimates from other studies of the economic costs from lockdown compared to QALYs is that New Zealand is that costs outweighed benefits by 95:1. Switching from level 2 to level 4 had a very subtle effect on case numbers and probably saved one life in the very elderly population.

Prof Ananish Chaudhuri, Professor of Experimental Economics, The University of Auckland

  • The costs of lockdown are not being adequately counted or assessed. Borrowing will have very severe long-term consequences, especially for small nations and those enfeebled by the retardation of their economy. Capital flight will become a big problem if and when borrowed money need to be repaid. Inflationary impact will be destabilising. Tourism and education are big holes in our economy. Explains why people wedded to lockdown approach find it hard to change position.

Dr Grant Morris, Associate Professor of Law, Victoria University of Wellington

  • Ran through the various laws implicated in government regulation and actions in response to Covid19. Main theme was that although Government must justify its reasoning for decisions made under existing laws, or for new laws, it is sovereign – so can make any rule it decides. Calls for more considered and patient decision-making by Government so rights and freedoms are not abandoned.

Ben smith, PH.D – Data Scientist

  • Runs through a model designed to assess the infection risk posed by allowing people from other countries into New Zealand based on the covid19 status of the home country, and the rules they adhere to in NZ. Shows that NZ can allow people in from countries with zero infections, as the risk is about equal to that in New Zealand.

Dr Carlo Caduff, Associate Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine, Kings College London.

  • Covid statistics are very unreliable, and gathered on a different basis between countries – so not comparable. Yet countries appear to be competing for the best statistics, rather than sharing discoveries, or comparing on more humane values. Moralistic judgement and nationalism in interpreting statistics has also been evident.