Why is New Zealand doing so well

"We won this fight" : How New Zealand managed to beat the coronavirus

February 28, 2020 is the day that also changed life for New Zealanders: On the islands in the South Pacific with around five million inhabitants, the case of an infection with the coronavirus was confirmed - one month after the first report from Great Britain. The number of infections also rose sharply in New Zealand in the following period.

Then the government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern opted for a lockdown that is one of the toughest in the world. The goal: New Zealand not only wants to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, but also to eliminate it.

And the strategy seems to be working. There is no longer any widespread, undetected transmission of the virus, Ardern said on Monday. “We won this fight.” After almost five weeks of restrictions at the highest level four, these should be reduced to level three from Monday evening (local time). In addition to the necessary services, this means that some shops, restaurants with take-away food and schools are allowed to reopen.

Just one new Covid-19 case

However, Ardern warned that it was not yet foreseeable when the virus would no longer be transmitted and a full return to normal would be possible. Everyone wanted "back the social contacts that we all miss so much," said Ardern. But this must be done "slowly and carefully". She will not jeopardize the steps already taken for people's health. If restrictions at level three are still necessary, it will stay that way for the time being.

According to media reports, there was only one new Covid-19 case within 24 hours in New Zealand, which has a population of five million. Overall, the number of infected people is given as 1122 and the number of deaths as 19.

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Comprehensive curfew since the end of March

In mid-March, Ardern's government closed the borders and imposed an entry ban on tourists, holders of temporary visas such as students and holders of temporary work permits. Only citizens and residents of New Zealand are excluded.

Foreigners stuck in the country - mainly tourists, including thousands of Germans - were only allowed to leave with a two-week delay.

On March 25, the government declared a state of emergency and imposed a comprehensive curfew. If the spread continues unchecked, the New Zealand health system will "flood and tens of thousands of New Zealanders will die," Ardern warned at the time.

New Zealanders are only allowed to leave their homes for urgent errands. Schools and shops are closed. Doing sports is only allowed in the immediate vicinity. Trips to the beach or visits are prohibited.

"The transmission chain is broken"

Grant Robertson, New Zealand's Treasury Secretary, told the UK Financial Times (FT) in mid-April: “The lockdown has severely broken the chain of transmission. The New Zealanders have largely adhered to the very strict conditions within this framework. And we've seen the results of it. "

As the FT reports, citing Google mobility statistics, the curfew has led to an 88 percent decline in retail and leisure activities.

Health minister scandal

The most prominent “sinner” who violated the strict requirements was Health Minister David Clark, of all people. He had gone to the beach with his family. He ruefully described himself as an "idiot" and offered to resign.

Ardern said that under normal circumstances she would have fired her health minister. “His behavior was wrong and cannot be excused.” But the fight against the coronavirus does not allow “massive disruptions in the health sector” or in the government's reactions to the crisis. Clark got off lightly - he was demoted to cabinet rank.

The late arrival of the virus on the Pacific island also helped the government stop the spread, according to health experts. The government had more time to prepare. In addition, the dramatic images from Italy, for example, would have made it easier for Ardern to convince the citizens of the need for tough measures.

"We saw a pretty quick and strong government response, but also a bit of luck with the timing," Nick Wilson, professor of public health at the University of Otago, told the FT.

Premier Ardern waives his salary

Overall, Ardern's crisis management is well received in the country. And the Social Democratic Prime Minister, who had already received a lot of praise for her prudent demeanor after the Christchurch massacre, is indeed sending strong signals: as an act of solidarity with the citizens, she announced that she would reduce her own salary by a fifth for six months will be shortened. Their ministers and top civil servants are also expected to receive 20 percent less salaries during this period.

As Prime Minister, Ardern receives an annual salary of around 260,000 euros and, with the cut, waives a total of 42,800 euros. The 39-year-old said it was not about a general salary discussion in the government, but about showing leadership. "This should only be a tribute to the New Zealanders, who are particularly suffering at the moment," said Ardern.

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Because the exit restrictions that have been imposed have paralyzed the New Zealand economy. Thousands of citizens have already lost their jobs. In the worst case, the Ministry of Economic Affairs assumes an unemployment rate of 26 percent.

Lots of tests

Particularly problematic for New Zealand is that at this point in time there are plans to maintain strict border controls and restrictions on travel and tourism until a vaccine is discovered. New Zealand recorded a total of four million tourists in 2018. The FT puts the value of the tourism sector for New Zealand at around 22 billion euros per year.

A comparatively large number of tests - almost 80,000 so far - and the tracing of contacts have helped contain the spread of the virus and raised hopes that the quarantine can be eased without a sudden increase in cases, according to health experts at the FT .

Background to the coronavirus:

Treasury Secretary Robertson had stressed in the FT in mid-April that New Zealand's fight against the virus was not over and that the government would not do anything that could risk the epidemic flare up again.

An island state can isolate itself well

As a remote island nation, New Zealand can isolate itself relatively easily. The big question is, therefore, how to keep the virus out of the country after an eventual "extermination" when the borders are reopened.

Ardern's government is therefore apparently considering a mandatory quarantine for travelers, which would also affect New Zealanders. The important tourism industry would hardly be pleased.

[Keep track of things: every morning from 6 a.m., editor-in-chief Lorenz Maroldt and his team report in the Tagesspiegel newsletter Checkpoint on the latest developments relating to the coronavirus. Register now for free: checkpoint.tagesspiegel.de]

But not all citizens agree with Ardern's course either. She was sued by two citizens in the Auckland High Court. You would be illegally detained, said the two plaintiffs, according to media reports on Saturday in a video link, as the news agency dpa writes.

One of the two argued that the lockdown should only have been issued after consulting the UN Secretary General. The other accused Ardern of jeopardizing the Pacific state's economy. Judge Mary Peters announced an early decision, as it was said.

Australia sees New Zealand as a role model

The apparent success of the New Zealand course has sparked a debate in Australia as well as to whether a similar result could be achieved there and a "trans-Tasman bubble" created to facilitate travel and trade between nations.

In the country with just under 25 million inhabitants, which reported 6711 confirmed infections and 83 deaths as of Sunday, some experts have called on the government to also introduce an "elimination strategy" - although the number of new infections has been below 50 for days.

But the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejects this. The New Zealand route would have placed even greater economic constraints on Australia, he said on Thursday. The path of "suppression" of the virus is best for Australia. Australia has travel bans and constraints on gatherings and public events.

According to the authorities, the coronavirus crisis will dramatically increase unemployment in Australia, as reported by the AFP news agency. The Ministry of Finance expects the current unemployment rate to double from 5.1 percent to ten percent, according to a report published by the ministry in mid-April. If the unemployment rate rose to ten percent, 1.4 million Australians would no longer have a job. This would be the highest unemployment rate in the country in 30 years. (with AFP)

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