As countries around the world work to ‘flatten the curve’ of Covid-19 infections, New Zealand set itself a far more ambitious target to wipe out COVID-19 completely. Only a few days more than a month after its strict lockdown began, the country now ranks among the world’s most successful countries in the global fight against the coronavirus having recorded its seventh day of no new cases of COVID-19.
The first COVID-19 case in New Zealand was reported on Feb. 28. By March 21, the country had instituted a four-tier alert system to coordinate resources and citizen response. A few days later, the country was in full lockdown making New Zealand one of the countries with the strictest lockdown conditions, paired with isolation, quarantines, widespread testing and contact tracing.
Interestingly, this aggressive strategy has enabled New Zealand to end community transmission of Covid-19, recording only 21 deaths and fewer than 1,500 infected persons, most of them elderly people with prior health conditions, in the country of almost 5 million.
The country has now eased into a less restrictive lockdown with New Zealanders heading back to work and 75% of the country’s economy back in operation. As it ended its strict constraints placed on citizens, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in her address, declared victory against the coronavirus outbreak, stating that “There is no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand, we have won that battle… Decisive action, going hard and going early helped to stamp out the worst of virus.”
It is worth noting that the 39-year-old Prime Minister’s swift decision-making, enforcing a strict national lockdown when New Zealand only had 102 cases and zero deaths, is the key which unlocked the success of New Zealand’s Covid-19 story.
In as much as the Prime Minister’s early and decisive action played a great role in the success of New Zealand’s elimination strategy, factors unique to New Zealand such as geography, low population density, a high level of trust in the government, a coherent public health system and cultural factors that promote public cooperation have all also been fingered to have given the country an advantage.
New Zealand is a geographically isolated, small, wealthy island nation far from other major countries and having its nearest neighbour, the tiny island chain of New Caledonia, 1,200 miles to the north. Also, its low population density means it may be harder for the virus to spread.
While evidences of the few cases of outbreak and few deaths speak to the fact that elimination can be achieved, there are doubts about the replicability of the success of New Zealand’s strategy in other countries, considering that the economic hardship that comes with the lockdown is not what most other nations are able to bear.
Although there is no single perfect solution to Covid-19, what the New Zealand experience has demonstrated is that early measures alongside decisive action and unified coordination among the citizenry is essential and effective to succeed in the fight against Covid-19. New Zealand’s bold plan and success undoubtedly, draws admiration from all over the world.