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How did New Zealand win against COVID? Lessons from its leaders and citizens

By PhilSTAR L!fe Published Dec 17, 2020 9:04 pm

New Zealand’s COVID-19 response has been one of the most successful in the world because the country did not waste time in taking firm and prompt action to tackle the virus. Despite these advances, New Zealand is not letting its guard down.

Officials said early on in the pandemic that country’s strategy in effectively controlling COVID-19 was based on speedy testing, contact tracing and isolation while strictly adhering to public health guidance.

New Zealand was considered to have one of the world’s strictest lockdowns at the beginning of the pandemic.

On Dec. 17, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that its government has secured two more vaccines—from AstraZeneca (7.6 million doses enough for 3.8 million people) and Novavax (10.72 million doses enough for 5.36 million people), each requires two doses to be administered—apart from its earlier pre-purchase from Pfizer/BioNTech (750,000 doses) and Janssen Pharmaceutica (5 million doses).

The New Zealand government’s pre-purchase of the vaccines means it has more than enough doses to cover its five million population, plus states and territories including Tokelau, Niue and Cook Islands; and its Polynesian neighbors Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu. This will be New Zealand’s “largest immunization roll-out ever,” according to Ardern, who also confirmed that the vaccine would be free for the public.

New Zealand will begin to roll out vaccinations by the second quarter of 2021, starting with border staff and rescue workers, and the rest of the population on the second half of the year. The Prime Minister also said that the country is working with Australia to support vaccinations in countries across the wider Pacific.

Officials say that immunizations would not lead to immediate changes to the closed borders, which they consider as the first line of defense from imported cases.

As of this writing, New Zealand has so far had 25 deaths and 1,744 confirmed cases, 43 of which are active cases.

Its early and strict implementation of preventive measures right after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern in late January allowed New Zealand to tackle COVID-19 effectively.

However, in an interview with AP, Arden said that the August outbreak in Auckland—which has remained a “frustrating mystery” according to experts, but likely to have originated from abroad—was a psychological blow for New Zealanders.

“We thought we were through the worst of it. And so it was a real psychological blow for people. And I felt that, too. So it was very, very tough,” Ardern shared.

A recent study led by University of Otago revealed that New Zealanders, who have a passionate stance on COVID-19, are more likely to accept “collateral damage” from the efforts to eliminate the virus.

According to the study, both failing to properly contain COVID-19 and implementing restrictions to contain the virus carry collateral costs, which include overwhelmed healthcare systems, deaths, unemployment, abuse of law enforcement and deterioration of human rights.

Dr. Maja Graso, a lecturer in business ethics who helped lead the research, said that the costs that people are accepting to prevent COVID-19 are extreme.

Because of the country’s lockdown period, treatments and diagnosis for illnesses were hampered. The study found that New Zealanders were more accepting of people dying because of delayed treatment because of pandemic restrictions than they were of people who are dying or becoming sick because of COVID-19.

The study, which has 700 participants, also found that New Zealanders were accepting of police’s “abuse of power” to stop the spread of COVID-19 compared to similar action that is unrelated to the pandemic.

The results of the study may come as concerning to experts, but New Zealanders are firm in their stance to continue to defeat COVID-19 and help its economy recover faster from the impacts of the pandemic.

New Zealand effectively executed its initial “go early and go hard” strategy with the help of its people who were called to protect themselves and the people around them, and were assured to just be prepared but don’t panic.

Government and its citizens' concerted effort to limit and stop COVID-19 in New Zealand would allow them to eventually lend a helping hand to their neighboring countries in the region.