Why those bubbles are so important

Opinion: Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles has written before about the importance of isolation bubbles, and now she has a quick reminder of why we need to hold firm and resist any temptation to bend the rules.

For almost a week now, every one of us who isn’t an essential worker has been confined to their bubble. We are allowed to go shopping for groceries, to visit the doctor, and to get a bit of exercise if we stay local.

The reason we are doing this is to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to save thousands of lives. And that is no exaggeration. The Ministry of Health have just released the results of modelling led by Professor Nick Wilson from the University of Otago, Wellington.

As Ashley Bloomfield put it recently, they “paint a sobering picture of what COVID-19 would look like in New Zealand if we were not taking a decisive and strict approach to our response”.

The worst-case scenario shows 146,000 people in New Zealand would need to be hospitalised. More than 36,000 would be sick enough to require intensive care. And more than 27,000 would be expected to die. To put that in perspective, this death toll would exceed that from the First World War and from the 1918 influenza pandemic.

What is more, as Wilson lays it out, in that worst-case scenario “89% of deaths would be in the 60-plus age-group and there would be likely mortality gradients by ethnicity (higher in Māori and Pacific peoples) and by socioeconomic position (higher in those living in deprived areas).”

But that is not the path we are on.

Instead, we are at alert level four. We are in lockdown.

Make no mistake, the days to come are going to be really hard for so many people, if they aren’t already. The measures will place a strain on a lot of people. Others might simply grow complacent. We have to do everything to guard against that.

Already, some people have apparently convinced themselves they aren’t doing any harm by nipping out of their bubbles. They don’t have the virus, right? Well, it’s really important to remember this: people can be infectious for days before they show symptoms.

The reality is simple. Everyone who visits another bubble could set off a chain reaction that at best puts our essential workers out of action and at worst puts people’s lives at risk. So please, stay in your bubbles New Zealand.

Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles is a microbiologist from the Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences' School of Medical Sciences.

This article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of the University of Auckland.

Used with permission from The Spinoff, Siouxsie Wiles & Toby Morris: Why those bubbles are so important, 1 April 2020.

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