Posted on May 04, 2020, 5 p.m.
New Zealand has chosen strict lock downs and austerity but what is next, and what have they done to have virtually eliminated this coronavirus outbreak on their island nation, according to the nation’s leader.
"There is no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand. We have won that battle," Prime Minister Ardern said. "But we must remain vigilant if we are to keep it that way."
The normally very busy and active island is now basically barren in comparison since the outbreak, deserted highways are just one manifestation of their resolute response to COVID-19; under their stringent lock down orders lights are dark and patios empty at every pub, cafe, and business, while there is yellow police tape sealing off parks and playgrounds with swings and equipment being tied up and out of reach to ward off temptation, as well as trails have barriers with closed signs at their entrances.
The emptiness across this beautiful island shows that the residents here are following orders and there is not much risk of transgression other than an occasional jogger or a person out for a brief stroll to get some air. Everything is closed except a few paved paths to and from towns to get essential supplies.
Close to 4 million visitors travel to New Zealand to experience its picturesque splendor and wilderness landscape, that is approximately 80% of the resident population, but this outbreak has forced the country to close all of the sought after landscapes and its borders.
If there is a shiny spot amid the global responses to this outbreak, New Zealand just might be it. While other governments have been more than a little indecisive wavering between different opinions and actions on the best response allowing the ensuing cases of infection to soar, New Zealand has set an uncompromising science driven example.
The country banned travel from China on February 3rd and since then their trajectory of new cases looked out of control until mid March when their austerity measures seemingly have been able to bring the spread of COVID-19 to heel on the island nation.
On March 15 the country began mandatory quarantines on all visitors, the strictest policy at the time, and just 10 days later New Zealand instituted a complete countrywide lock down which included a moratorium on the domestic level. The level 4 restrictions meant that hospitals, pharmacies, petrol stations and grocery stores were the only commerce allowed to be open, vehicle travel was restricted, and social interaction was limited to within households.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand made clear, concise statements about the situation to the nation, and was bolstered by a team of scientists and health professionals to help stop any confusion or panic about the sudden austerity, while delivering and supporting the same message. She also announced a few days after the lock down that the country rather than just slowing the transmission of the virus had set a course to eradicate the virus by cutting off the arrival of new cases and choking out any existing ones with these restrictions.
“We must fight by going hard and going early,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement to the nation on March 14. “We have the opportunity to do something no other country has achieved: elimination of the virus. But it will continue to need a team of 5 million behind it.”
“The virus doesn’t have superpowers. Once transmission is stopped, it’s gone,” said Petousis-Harris, a vaccine expert at the University of Auckland, who suggests that the country had managed to avoid the confusion and half-measures that have hampered the response in many other countries. “New Zealand got everything right,” she said. “Decisive action, with strong leadership and very clear communications to everybody.”
Looking at New Zealand from the outside perspective it is rather different than the indecisiveness, confusion, and whinging being seen in America, in New Zealand the entire country simply got on board with the idea as it was clearly and concisely explained to them. In this country right from day one of their lock down the streets and highways were empty, stores were closed and everyone stayed home rather than complaining like entitled children having a temper tantrum.
Since their measures were put into place, they appear to be working as their daily infection rate in this island nation of 4.9 million people has been decreasing steadily from the maximum of 146 in March to just a few cases by mid April; in all New Zealand has reported a high of 1,476 cases with 19 deaths, and on April 26th, the country experienced no new COVID-19 cases and no community transmission for the first time in 6 weeks, but 7 new cases appeared on April 30, 2020.
Even with the 7 new cases the low numbers gave the government the confidence to ease up on the country’s social distancing restrictions to lower them to Level 3 at the end of April, and Ardern pronounced that the virus had been eliminated, she later clarified that “elimination doesn’t mean zero cases... we will have to keep stamping COVID out....” Downgrading to level 3 means that most but not all businesses are being allowed to reopen provided they follow safety measures, but all that require face to face contact must remain closed until level 2 is reached.
"Your business must be contactless. Your customers can pay online, over the phone or in a contactless way," she said. "Delivery or pickup must also be contactless."
Even though New Zealand is sounding fairly confident about eliminating this virus, the success is not guaranteed. For instance other countries such as Singapore that also appeared to have the virus under control have now been struggling with a second wave of infections, and in China which also appeared to stop the spread completely are now contending with a second wave as well.
If New Zealand has managed to contain this virus outbreak, the country will still face a long and hard road, as once they are virus free they will need to maintain the total halt on all arrivals from outside of the country or risk the chance of reinfection until the entire world has managed to snuff out the virus as well. For a country like New Zealand that is largely reliant on tourism in terms of foreign exchange earnings that accounts for 10% of the GDP and nearly 15% of their workforce that is a tough prospect. For the Kiwi economy this puts hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake, and it is forecasted that the country will be among the hardest hit nations, which may not recover until at least 2024.
Australia has also been experiencing a decline in their new cases since their peak a month ago, according to their home affairs minister Peter Dutton, New Zealand and Australia are at a comparable stage in their fight against COVID-19.
Recent surveys indicate that 87% of the New Zealand population support the way that their government is handling this crisis, and it may have been easier for citizens to fall in to tow the line in this country because in general the vast majority trusts their leaders. In New Zealand it is reported that the streets remain clean and quiet, public services are functioning, stores are well stocked, and the risk of contracting COVID-19 appears to be remote and diminishing with each passing day thanks to clear and concise leadership and the citizens cooperating by following guidelines to do their part in battling the outbreak.
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