ast weekend, sport with fans in attendance returned to New Zealand. 20,000 fans packed into Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin to watch a game of rugby league. Nobody was obliged to wear face masks, and social distancing was also not a requirement. Among hugs and great festivity, New Zealand took another big step to normality following the COVID-19 outbreak.
The question is, when most of the world is still struggling to get over, or even get to grips with COVID-19, what did New Zealand do differently?
New Zealand has a population of only 5 million people, and it is a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Clearly, these two factors played a considerable role in COVID-19 being brought under control much more quickly than in other parts of the world.
With a small population and the ability to completely lock down the country, New Zealand had an advantage that other more populous and lock-locked countries simply did not. Having said that, geography and population size were only two of the critical elements that saw the Kiwis defeat COVID-19.
Strong, empathetic leadership
Scientists believe that without the right strategies that New Zealand could have experienced more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19 per day. This didn’t prove to be the case thanks in no small part to the firm and decisive leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Already a figure of trust thanks to the way she brought the country together in the wake of the Christchurch shooting, Ardern imposed strict lockdown measures at a very early stage. All non-essential workers were ordered to stay at home, and people could only leave their homes for emergencies and to shop for essential goods.
In some countries, this strong response would have been considered overly excessive. In New Zealand, it was simply accepted as what must be done. The Prime Minister reinforced this message with regular updates. She talked directly to the camera and to her people about why such action was necessary.
In other countries where the virus was not taken seriously, and leaders openly questioned and flaunted medical advice, the general tactic was to monitor the disease’s progress and respond accordingly. This method has lead to terrible death tolls across the world. In New Zealand, a complete and early lockdown proved to be a much more effective tool.
Mobilization and test, test, test
New Zealand may be small, but this does not mean that on a per capita basis, it is better prepared to battle something like COVID-19. In fact, its medical infrastructure was massively underprepared for a real fight against the disease.
Regardless of this, the New Zealand government mobilized and put in place infrastructure that, within six weeks, was processing 8,000 COVID-19 tests per, the highest per capita in the world.
Other countries, specifically the UK, made grand claims about testing and tracking that have turned out to be patently false or massively overexaggerated. On the other hand, New Zealand implemented a sophisticated digital system that sent out text messages to those who may have been in contact with somebody who had COVID-19. This system played another huge role in stopping the disease in its tracks.
In the space of 7 weeks, New Zealand brought COVID-19 under control. The battle is not over yet, but this small pacific island and its female leader have shown the world what strong leadership and unity really look like. The Trumps, Johnsons, and Bolsanoros of this world should hang their heads in shame, but clearly, they are far too arrogant to have any.