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NPR: New Zealand Says it has Won Battle Against Coronavirus

2020-04-28

Lake Tekapo photo by Holger Detje courtesy of pixabay.com

New Zealand plans to loosen its coronavirus lockdown this week, since the count of new infections has dropped considerably, according to this article on the National Public Radio (NPR) website dated April 27.  Five new cases showed up Monday, out of a population of just under 5 million.  The country reported a total of 1472 cases, with 19 fatalities; there was a high of 89 new confirmed infections on April 9 but the trend has been markedly downward recently.  According to CNN, 82% of cases have recovered.

A two week quarantine for all people entering the country was instituted on March 14 after the first case was reported on February 28.  On March 19, all foreigners were banned from entering the country, a blow to New Zealand’s tourist business– but few tourists have shown an interest in travelling recently anyway.  A stay at home order wasn’t instituted until March 23.  Now, the lockdown will be eased, but businesses that involve close contact, like hairdressers and public gyms, will not yet be allowed to re-open.

The country’s universal health system has been partly responsible for the aggressive system of contact tracing, which now has a capacity to make 10,000 calls a day.  The prime minister has appeared on Facebook Live and has answered questions with complete transparency, an important prerequisite for buy-in to isolation measures for the public.  New Zealand also has a low capacity for intensive care beds and feels responsible for preventing travellers from transiting the country on the way to the Pacific Islands, which are even more vulnerable to being overwhelmed by uncontrolled spread of the virus.

To date, New Zealand has carried out about 126,000 tests and has a capacity for 8,000 more a day.  Only 1% of tests have come back positive.

New Zealand’s experts, according to CNN, say that the key to preventing uncontrolled spread of the virus is a combination of good leadership and reliance on the advice of scientists.  Opinion polls say 87% of the population approves of the government’s handling of the crisis.  However, the country depends on tourism for a lot of its revenue, and the unemployment rate will increase to 13%.  Despite the economic effects, the country plans to remain isolated for some time, possibly until there is a vaccine available.

Another response to the crisis: the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and her cabinet have taken a pay cut.  This willingness to share the burden is another reason why so many approve of the government’s response.

This country’s defense against the novel coronavirus shows that it is possible for a democratic, open country to be effective in times of crisis with transparency, honesty, and willingness to listen to the experts in formulating policy.  All these features stimulate public buy-in for radical measures that cause significant economic pain– and make authoritarian behavior unnecessary.  How I wish that our country could follow a similar course.

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