Brandon Clarke explains how Jacinda Ardern’s stringent lockdown strategy means that New Zealand is now COVID-19 free and open for business

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While the rest of the world is staring down the barrel of a new reality that involves living with lockdown, social distancing, and life with Coronavirus for a long time to come, New Zealand is about to return to “Almost Normal”. 

New Zealand’s last remaining active case was today updated to ‘recovered’, making the country now COVID-19 free. A total of just 22 deaths have been attributed to Coronavirus, and today marks the 17th day in a row with zero new cases reported to the World Health Organisation.

The cabinet met Monday afternoon to decide if New Zealand could move to Alert Level 1. These deliberations were brought forward two weeks after better than expected case numbers and calls from Labour’s coalition partner, New Zealand First.

Twelve weeks ago, on Monday 23 March, with 102 active cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced to the nation that, effective immediately, the nations would be going to Alert Level 3, and within 48 hours to Alert level 4, total lockdown, nationwide. It was only 2 days since the nation had been introduced to the new Alert Levels system. 

“If community transmission takes off in New Zealand the number of cases will double every five days. If that happens unchecked, our health system will be inundated, and tens of thousands New Zealanders will die,” Ardern said. “There is no easy way to say that — but it is the reality we have seen overseas — and the possibility we must now face here. Together, we must stop that happening, and we can.”

Open for Business

Harnessing the #TeamOfFiveMIllion through an effective Government communications strategy and campaign New Zealand stands poised to revert to “almost normality”. Every household in New Zealand was mailed an information leaflet explaining the system. Changes in the status of the pandemic were reported daily lunchtime briefings from the Prime Minister and the Director-General of Health (Dr Ashley Bloomfield). The website was constantly updated with clear easy to understand information.

Source: John Hart

In Jacinda Ardern’s post-Cabinet meeting speech this afternoon, she said: “We went hard and we went early, with two goals: To protect lives, and to protect livelihoods.” She observed that “New Zealanders massively reduced their movements during lockdown. 91% less in retail & recreation — more than Australia, UK, US and nearly every other place we have compared ourselves to.” As a result “all the rules and restrictions on business and services are essentially lifted. 

Sport has already begun being played again this weekend. Currently, crowds will be limited to 100 people, but as New Zealand goes to Alert Level 1 from midnight tonight crowds will be allowed back at stadiums. As Ardern confirmed this means that “with the exception of continued tight border controls — including mandatory 14-day isolation for most arrivals life is about to return to normal.”

The economic benefits to being COVID-19 free are already accruing. Microsoft have announced they will build a cloud data centre in New Zealand (see: ). The New Zealand movie-making industry is open for business, with the Avatar cast and crew arriving for filming. The Rocket Labs satellite launch site on Mahia Peninsula is operational. Foreign-based companies are enquiring about relocating their operations here, all of which should cushion some of the impacts of lockdown. 

Why New Zealand’s Strategy Worked

At the outset of the pandemic in February New Zealand was relatively unprepared. However we have learned a lot from the last three months, and the country is now well poised to identify, contain, and eradicate any outbreaks that do occur if the border restrictions are eased, although there is no plan to do this at this stage.

One of the key gains has been a public awareness and = understanding that our Go Hard and Go Early strategy has been effective. The New Zealand public has looked on, often in horror, at the mounting death tolls around the globe. It is not uncommon to hear people express a strong sense of relief they are in New Zealand right now.

In mid-May, 92% of New Zealanders polled said they agreed with the Government’s strict measures to control the spread of CoronaVirus.

The combination of this public support, along with dramatically improved contact tracing and testing capabilities, means New Zealand now has the capability to quickly identify and contain any subsequent outbreaks. If there is an outbreak, and the Government announces that a regional lockdown is required to contain it, the New Zealand public will say: “Yeah, okay, that seems fair enough,”

The Go Hard and Go Early strategy is set to potentially reap huge economic benefits for New Zealand. The reopening of the economy close to fully, particularly so much earlier than most of the rest of the world, could see the #TeamOfFiveMIllion’s sacrifice and buy-in to the complete lockdown pay off.


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