New Zealanders will return to work on Monday as the country eases a strict lockdown hailed as an example to the world for keeping deaths below 20. (Owl thinks it no coincidence that New Zealand has a female prime minister)
Bernard Lagan, Sydney www.thetimes.co.uk
About half a million of New Zealand’s more than 2.5 million workers will return to their jobs as the construction and forestry industries resume, and more retailers open after a month-long lockdown that brought the country to a standstill.
New Zealand’s restrictions extended to every non-essential business, leaving only supermarkets and pharmacies open — actions only matched in severity by India and Israel.
The nation of five million led by Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister, is, like Taiwan, seeking to eliminate Covid-19 from within its borders while most other countries, including its much larger neighbour Australia, pursue less stringent suppression policies.
New Zealand has the world’s lowest mortality rate for coronavirus and ranks among the lowest for the number of confirmed cases per 100,000 people. As of yesterday, only 17 people had died of the disease.
Ms Ardern, 39, said that New Zealand would continue to pursue its goal of elimination with a strategy that differs from most other nations. “Success doesn’t mean zero Covid-19 cases,” she said. “It means zero tolerance — as soon as we have a case, we go in straight away, testing around that person. We’re isolating them . . . we do our interviews and contact trace to find all the people who have been in contact with them while they may have passed it on, and we ask them to isolate. That’s how we keep stamping out Covid cases.”
While the country has been widely lauded for its “go hard, go fast” strategy, Australia has on some measures achieved even better results. By yesterday, it had recorded 77 coronavirus deaths among a population of 25 million — a slightly lower per capita death rate than New Zealand.
Australia has had a looser lockdown strategy and has kept many more shops and workplaces open, including the building industry, but is struggling to safely relax restrictions on movement and recreation. Sydney reopened its Maroubra and Coogee beaches on Monday but closed them again because visitors failed to abide by rules that require them to keep moving and not sunbathe.
Experts have said that New Zealand and Australia had advantages fighting Covid-19 because of their smaller population densities, remote locations and increased knowledge about the disease because it hit larger nations first.
“It was the horror, I guess, seeing what was happening in Italy in places, but also watching the other countries that were closer to China and who had experience with Sars and things before,” Dr Siouxsie Wiles, a micro- biologist at Auckland University and one of the architects of New Zealand’s strategy, said.
“They were responding differently. It was clear you could do something different and have a different outcome to what was happening in countries like Italy. That was the first thing — we had time on our side.”
She insisted that restrictions would only be gradually removed and that the virus was not beaten. “If the public starts thinking or acting that this means we can kind of go and hang out with our friends, then, if we still have the virus in little pockets of the country, we could start to see it coming up again,” she said. “So we’re in a delicate position.”
Ms Ardern rejected a scheme yesterday that would have allowed the foreign super-rich to buy their way into New Zealand in return for investing $50 million in the economy. “We don’t want people paying for passports,” she said. Leading business figures had called on her government to offer about 2,000 visas to foreigners who could invest into the country — once the virus was eradicated — as a way to boost the economy, which has been forecast to reach unemployment rates of at least 10 per cent.
Earlier this week Bloomberg reported that Silicon Valley executives had escaped to hideout shelters in New Zealand because of the pandemic.
Suffocating the enemy
Feb 3 New Zealand introduces entry restrictions for foreigners travelling from, or transiting through, China.
Feb 28 A person in their 60s arriving from Iran is diagnosed with Covid-19, the country’s first case.
Feb 29 Health staff start to meet flights from Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand to look for symptoms.
March 1 Australia and the US report first virus deaths.
March 2 Global death toll tops 3,000. New Zealand rules that anyone who has visited northern Italy or South Korea must self-isolate for 14 days.
March 14 Anyone entering the country must self-isolate for 14 days bar those arriving from the Pacific Island nations. Cruise ships banned.
March 16 Any tourists who arrive and do not self-quarantine risk being deported.
March 19 Borders closed to all but NZ citizens and permanent residents.
March 23 People are told to stay at home by the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to stop community transmission.
March 24 Schools and universities and all non-essential businesses shut. Travel is severely limited.
March 25 State of emergency is declared. The nation goes into self-isolation.