High price: New Zealand declares itself corona-free: that is behind the success of the island nation
Monday, June 8th, 2020, 11:43 am
New Zealand is seen as the leader in the international fight against coronavirus. The government announced the first day without new infection at the end of April – on Monday the Ministry of Health announced that the country had overcome the coronavirus for the time being. There are many reasons – but there is also a downside to the success story from Down Under.
The last Covid-19 patient in the country had had no symptoms on Monday (local time) for 48 hours, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health, and is considered to have recovered. The woman from Auckland is now being released from quarantine. The government announced that since there would not be a single known active infection case in New Zealand, the corona restrictions would be lifted.
The country had only reported a total of 1504 confirmed and possible cases of infection. 22 people died related to Covid-19. The last time a new infection was reported in New Zealand was 17 days ago. The fact that New Zealand has had no active case for the first time since February is a “significant sign on our trip,” said Health Director General Ashley Bloomfield.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that strict border controls would be maintained. All other restrictions and rules would be lifted on Tuesday night. Distance bids and numerical limits at meetings no longer apply. This means that spectators can again go to the stadiums en masse, for example for rugby games, New Zealand’s national sport.
The aim was to get out of the crisis as quickly and safely as possible, so that national borders remain the first line of defense against the virus and all other restrictions on the economy could be ended, said Ardern. “Today, 75 days later, we’re ready.”
Ardern is praised worldwide for steering the country through the crisis with leadership, clear explanations that are understandable to every citizen, empathy for people and trust in scientists. But what is New Zealand’s success?
Reasons for success
There are several reasons for the corona pandemic to go off lightly. The government had already extended travel restrictions to high-risk countries such as Iran or Italy on February 28, before the country’s borders were completely closed three weeks later, on March 20. In addition, the government had ordered Ardern that every traveler had to stay in isolation for 14 days.
In addition to additional preparation time, New Zealand also helped its geographic location as an island nation. An undetected mass import of Corona cases, such as from the ski resorts of the Alps in Europe, was prevented by the control of flight and ferry connections.
New Zealand and the Virus: The country has been snap-frozen
So far, the measures have been quite comparable to those of other island regions, such as Taiwan or Australia. Then, however, New Zealand’s politicians decided to fight the virus in a way that would otherwise have been suspected in autocratic countries.
On March 25, the government announced the national emergency to raise the risk level of the Covid 19 emergency plan from three to four the next day. The country was frozen. “There was probably no such extreme lockdown anywhere else in the world,” reports Oliver Hartwich, a German who heads the research institute for economics “The New Zealand” in New Zealand. The number of newly infected persons rose to 78 on this day, with 283 confirmed cases nationwide.
From this point on, only contact with people from your own household was permitted; the range of movement outdoors was limited to the city’s own district. “The residents were stopped by the police if they wanted to go to another part of the city,” Hartwich describes the strict controls by the authorities. Also unlucky were those who were in another part of the country at the time of the lockdown. Because even domestic trips were no longer possible. Even the visit of dying relatives fell victim to the strict conditions.
All kiwis, with the exception of systemically relevant professions such as health workers, were only able to work from home. Except for larger supermarkets and health facilities, public life came to a standstill.
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New Zealand’s government impresses with good crisis communication
Despite the drastic cuts, the approval ratings for Prime Minister Ardern in the crisis were 65 percent, and that of her Social Democratic Labor party was 55 percent. Around Ardern and the government, “real hype has broken out,” reports Hartwich.
One reason is the government’s excellent crisis communication. Almost daily and punctually at 1 p.m., the nation learned everything important about the course of the virus in the country and the procedure of its emergency government.
The Prime Minister repeatedly spoke of her country as “our team of five million”, meaning the total number of all New Zealand citizens. She appeared regularly on Facebook, always smiling, and answered the questions of her fellow human beings. She always ended her public appearances with the words: “Be strong. Be friendly.”
Another advantage is that Ardern’s government maintains a close and trusting relationship with scientists. She and her government have given priority to citizens’ health, while other countries have hesitated with restrictions due to concerns about the economy, experts said.
In addition, wage subsidies – similar to the German short-time work allowance – were approved unbureaucratically. In addition to the low number of cases, the increase in popularity, Hartwich says.
The lockdown as a panic reaction?
However, it remains controversial whether the government’s profound cuts in the private life of citizens were necessary and lawful. In Hartwich’s view, the New Zealand government “panicked despite the small number of cases.” The reason: The politicians hardly knew about the performance of their own health system. A request from his institute at the beginning of the crisis as to how many intensive care beds and respirators would be available in the country could not be answered.
New Zealand’s largest daily newspaper, New Zealand Herald, said it had documents that the government’s actions were not legally enforceable, according to its own constitutional court. The government’s top legal adviser, David Parker, in turn speaks only of a draft, but not of an actual recommendation from his authority.
“A scandal,” says Hartwich. The government overruled the advice from its own house. “Normally, the Minister of Justice would have to resign after such an incident.” The episode makes it clear how close the government had ventured to the limits of democracy to contain the virus at an early stage.
The tightrope walk between health protection and the personal freedom of citizens is a much discussed topic, especially in Germany. How far can the state go when it comes to containing the virus? They positioned themselves clearly in New Zealand: very far. How New Zealand will emerge economically from the crisis remains to be seen after the strict lockdown.
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bhi / vivi / with material from dpa