Viewpoint abstract: In this article we review the COVID-19 pandemic experience in Aotearoa New Zealand and consider the optimal ongoing response strategy. We note that this pandemic virus looks likely to result in future waves of infection that diminish in size over time, depending on such factors as viral evolution and population immunity. However, the burden of disease remains high with thousands of infections, hundreds of hospitalisations and tens of deaths each week, and an unknown burden of long-term illness (long COVID). Alongside this there is a considerable burden from other important respiratory illnesses, including influenza and RSV, that needs more attention. Given this impact and the associated health inequities, particularly for Māori and Pacific Peoples, we consider that an ongoing respiratory disease mitigation strategy is appropriate for New Zealand. As such, the previously described “vaccines plus” approach (involving vaccination and public health and social measures), should now be integrated with the surveillance and control of other important respiratory infections. Now is also a time for New Zealand to build on the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic to enhance preparedness nationally and internationally. New Zealand’s experience suggests elimination (or ideally exclusion) should be the default first choice for future pandemics of sufficient severity.
M G Baker, A Kvalsvig, MJ Plank, J L Geoghegan, T Wall, C Tukuitonga, J Summers, J Bennett, J Kerr, N Turner, S Roberts, K Ward, B Betty, Q S Huang, N French, N Wilson
New Zealand Medical Journal 2023 136; 1583: 67-91