Author: Jhanak Setia 

New Zealand is an island country, situated in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Despite being a remote land with a population of just about 48.9 lakhs (as of 2018), it has managed to stay connected with the outside world and flourish in terms of its development. It has been in the news for quite a long time now, for being efficacious in curbing the transmission of SARS-COV-2.

Was it just the location and demographic profile that proved to be the trump card or is it a story of timely implementation and a robust action plan?  Well, the low population and small size of the country surely was a benefit but a minor one. Let us try to sail through how everything was made to fall in place with JacindaArdern leading as the Prime Minister.

Quick and Proactive Response

In late January, it was clear from the WHO reports that the Wuhan-originated virus was indubitably set to turn into a pandemic. New Zealand recorded its first-ever cases on 28th February 2020. Since its inception, stringent measures were taken pertaining to travel restrictions, testing, and awareness. Even before the arrival of the virus into New Zealand, entry of people from China had been banned and the native people coming from China had to isolate for 14 days. Later, on March 19, all inbound travel to the country was banned.

“We must go hard and we must go early” were the words of the Kiwi Prime Minister, JacindaArdern. The quick and meticulous action is something to be looked up to. These steps were taken when there were just a few thousand cases worldwide to halt the influx. They had a firm, lucid goal: To eliminate the virus before it mushrooms.

The Four-Fold Elimination Model

In March itself, a four-stage alert system was set in motion. Level 1 (Prepare) included measures like border restrictions, contact tracing, intensive testing, self-hygiene maintenance, and canceled mass gatherings. Level 2 (Reduce) consisted of further augmenting the existing measures along with limiting non-essential travel within New Zealand and working through alternative means at home. Level 3 (Restrict) comprised of the closure of public venues and affected educational institutions. The final stage- level 4 (Eliminate) implemented the complete restriction of staying at home, closure of all institutions, rationing of supplies, and reprioritizing the health sector.

At all these stages, necessities and emergency services kept running. The system started with level 2 but escalated to level 4 by 25th March. Utilizing the lockdown, they prepared for extensive testing and contact tracing process. Hospitals were prepared to treat the myriad of patients. They could then test 10,000 cases per day. And all this happened when the world leaders in healthcare – US, UK, and Europe – were still struggling to contemplate the next steps and could not treat their people like the Kiwis did.

Criticism for the Approach

A similar island nation, Australia, also followed nearly the same process as New Zealand except for giving comparatively more economic freedom. Business activities such as mining & construction were allowed to operate when it wasn’t a dire need to close them, unlike New Zealand where everything was shut from the inception of first cases itself. In nutshell, economy-wise Australia is likely to face a lesser brunt than New Zealand. In this comparison, lies the main reason for the criticism of New Zealand’s strategy for flattening the curve. Many economists and experts objected to this early and strict lockdown period because this action was bound to cause a big economic loss.

Moreover, New Zealand’s economy is largely based on Tourism and Education which got seriously hampered after these strict measures. The unemployment rate is also susceptible to rise to a great extent. But, it cannot be ignored that when the world’s going into recession after a pandemic, the aftermath has to be faced by everyone. In the mutually dependent world, targeting for a speedy recovery and subsequently, an earlier economic rebound is a better option than saving the economy at the cost of its population.

The Current Picture

Currently, New Zealand has registered 13 new cases (as of 14th August, 2020) after 102 days of absence of community transmission and no cases. Auckland has been put to lockdown again. Nonetheless, from swift actions being taken and hospitals being equipped to PM JacindaArdern’s effective communication with the people, and everything was lauded by WHO and various other countries. Her empathetic attitude and words of awareness thwarted the happening of panicky situations.

A very significant lesson learned from this whole process is to involve people to be a part of the mission, keeping them informed and boost their morale. Another thing would be to always pay heed to the experts. After all, being the strictest in the world did bring them harmony!

Here ends the tale of success, dependent on what not! What do you think helped Kiwis fight the virus? Their master plan or their isolated land?

References:

  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-53274085
  2. https://indianexpress.com/article/world/coronavirus-5-things-new-zealand-got-right-6449897/
  3. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2025203
  4. https://www.republicworld.com/world-news/rest-of-the-world-news/how-new-zealands-elimination-policy-got-covid-cases-down-to-zero.html
  5. https://www.contagionlive.com/news/how-did-new-zealand-control-covid19

About the Author: Jhanak is currently pursuing Economics (Honors) from Miranda house – the University of Delhi. Her interest lies in a
thorough understanding of contemporary as well as economic concepts and happenings and she wishes to explore research for the same.

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