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Opinion and Editorial

KT edit: New Zealand's sustained response helps it contain the pandemic

Filed on June 9, 2020

A self-sufficient economy with key industries being agriculture, forestry, fishing, and horticulture enabled it ride out the storm with less damage to livelihoods

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern deserves praise for her calm handling of the pandemic and containing its spread. What was initially seen as a hasty lockdown imposed on March 25 has worked wonders for the health of the island nation and its citizens who maintained discipline to keep the virus at bay. It was a sustained effort from the government and the people. On Monday, Ardern told reporters she did a 'little dance' when she was informed by health experts leading the battle that the country had zero cases. So what did New Zealand do right and what can the world learn from its success? It's important to consider New Zealand's place on the world map before we study the government's action and the people's response to the crisis two months ago. Geography, a small population, progressive politics, and a disciplined people have helped it avoid the pain other countries have endured on their road to recovery. New Zealand is a little larger that the United Kingdom and has a population of five million. More importantly, the country lies on the edge of the world and is hard to access by land. Once flights were banned, the country worked assiduously to track Covid-19 suspects and treat them.

The awareness campaign was led by the PM herself; she was the face of the counter-measures against the disease and it was reassuring to the people who saw a leader leading by example. Transparency was important and the country spelt out its plans clearly - a four-stage alert system was put in place and the government kept its focus on getting it right. After three weeks, stage 4, the highest alert was eased to allow restaurants and shops to reopen for takeaways. In mid-May it was brought down to stage 2. Stage 1 was achieved ahead of time. The original reopening was scheduled for June 22, but with no cases for 17 days at a stretch, it was decided to open the country and return to normal life. Masks may not be mandatory now but people are encouraged to wear them. The distance from the world and limited connectivity helped New Zealand as it went into its shell early to emerge largely unscathed from the pandemic. A self-sufficient economy with key industries being agriculture, forestry, fishing, and horticulture enabled it ride out the storm with less damage to livelihoods. Geographical distance, political vision that drove a sustained health response and a self-contained economy are clear factors that emerge from the country's successful containment of the disease. The New Zealand model can now be exported to the world.


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