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New Zealanders do not fully understand how dire the situation will become if the Government's elimination strategy fails, a leading epidemiologist says.
While falling case numbers are providing hope, New Zealanders are being warned the Delta variant of Covid-19, and how quickly it spreads, means elimination could still fail.
Academics say the reality of losing the elimination fight would be grim.
Restrictions would need to be in place for months until vaccine rates climbed above 80 per cent, the virus would probably escape Auckland, the healthcare system could be overwhelmed and there would be deaths.
The warnings come against the backdrop of Victoria following New South Wales in giving up on elimination and shifting to containment.
University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker remained confident New Zealand would eliminate the virus, but acknowledged there was a risk it could fail.
"There has always been a risk that we would fail against the Delta variant."
If the Delta variant spread out of control, it would not mean the end of restrictions.
Instead it might mean lockdown, for Auckland at least, could need to be extended until Christmas.
This would be a new reality for New Zealanders who, due to the success of elimination, had lived with the fewest restrictions in the world for the past 18 months.
"I don't think we even fully necessarily grasp what it will be like if we lose control of this virus," he said.
There would be an element of luck in whether New Zealand was successful.
It could depend on messaging getting through to marginalised sections of society who were less engaged in the Covid-19 response.