Alex Whiteman | Managing Editor
After four new cases of COVID-19 were discovered, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country would be placed back into lockdown for the first time in 102 days. She stated that Auckland will be ‘moved to level three restrictions for a period of three days’, while the rest of New Zealand will be placed under Level 2. In that time, they will ‘assess the situation, gather information, make sure (they) have widespread contact tracing’ and ‘make decisions on how to respond to it’.
New Zealand is one of the only countries in the world to have eradicated COVID-19, having placed the country under a strict lockdown on March 15th, after only 100 confirmed cases and zero deaths. Its restrictions were communicated clearly and quickly, and citizens were urged to participate in ‘something no other country has achieved; elimination of the virus.’
It worked. On May 9th, eight weeks after the country was placed under lockdown, they announced that coronavirus had been eliminated. After 1500 confirmed cases and 20 deaths, New Zealand managed to achieve the goal Ardern had set for them, and until now, have continued living in almost total normality. Ardern has stated that ‘one of the most important lessons that (they) have learned from overseas is to go hard and go early.’
So let’s look at how their response to coronavirus differed from our own. In the weeks following the first case of COVID-19 in the UK on 31st January 2020, the government announced that it was ‘well prepared’ to tackle the virus. As of the 12th August, we have 312,000 cases, with over 46,000 deaths because of the virus.
There are three key reasons why lockdown was so effective in New Zealand, but not in the UK. Firstly, they did not delay. The first case of coronavirus was reported on 28th February, with the countrywide lockdown being enforced 16 days later. Meanwhile, our first reported case was on 31st January, and lockdown did not commence until 23rd March, 52 days later. 336 people had already died.
Secondly, their lockdown was extremely firm, and well-enforced. Everything except essential shops were closed, supplies were rationed, and all public events were cancelled. While the UK had similar restrictions in place, New Zealand took them much more seriously, deploying police to enforce them and setting up roadblocks to prevent travel in and out of major cities. In the UK, lockdown had begun to be lifted on 11th May despite the total death toll reaching over 32,000. While lockdown certainly prevented many more deaths, it is clear that many more could have been saved. Furthermore, Ardern made it clear that these rules were not to be taken lightly. Her health secretary, David Clark, was demoted after he broke lockdown restrictions to take his family to the beach. Ardern said of the incident ‘I expect better, and so does New Zealand.’ In the UK, Johnson’s Chief Political Advisor, Dominic Cummings, made non-essential travel to Durham, and thus far has not seen any repercussions.
Which brings us to the last reason New Zealand’s lockdown worked so well; trustworthy leadership. A recent poll showed that Ardern has a 59.5% approval rating, making her New Zealand’s most popular Prime Minister in over a century. Johnson, meanwhile, has an approval rating of 44%, having dropped by 22% since lockdown began. It is hard for a nation to stand by Johnson when the rules he imposes do not apply to his staff, or when he contracts COVID-19 from shaking hands ‘with everybody’ at a hospital, or when the rules for lockdown change too quickly for the general public to keep track of. Ardern has been consistent, kind, and firm, and the people of New Zealand trust her as a result.
Coronavirus has affected everyone, all across the world, and there will be major economic repercussions. But while Johnson was hesitant to impose lockdown restrictions, Ardern focused on eradicating coronavirus as quickly as possible, so her citizens’ lives could return to normal. As she puts it, ‘As disruptive as it is, a strong and rapid health response remains the best long-term economic response.’ Their measures worked, and with any luck, they will work again.