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New Zealand PM, Jacinda Arden, on 9th June, formally declared from Christchurch that New Zealand is Corona-Free and has had no fresh cases of COVID 19 in the past two weeks. She informed the public that most restrictions on public movement will now be lifted including social distancing which is still encouraged but not enforced. While the corona rampage gets aggressive with each passing day in most countries, New Zealand has turned a new leaf; Over 75% of economic activities, schools, sporting events, and domestic transport will now resume in New Zealand. The country’s last corona victim is now cured and released from hospice and most public life will be back to normal after five weeks of strict lockdown. There are no corona infected citizens in New Zealand as on 9th June 2020 and nil cases have been reported in the last 18 days. A visibly ecstatic PM Arden announced the “Alert 1 protocol” to be in effect from Tuesday and ended her address with “Thank you New Zealand”. Though she maintained that the country’s borders will remain closed for foreigners including Australians and residents coming from abroad; a fourteen-day quarantine period will remain in effect. nz pm

Getty Images / H.Hopkins.

New Zealand becomes the first country in the world to be declared as corona-free land

Led by a friendly face and a talented woman leader, how did a country with little scientific resources where the lockdown was announced in late March manage to achieve a feat that even the most developed countries in the world; USA and UK are not able to perform? The answer lies in a community effort, good governance and reliance on science. A woman enters her contact details before entering a pet shop in Christchurch

 A woman enters her contact details before entering a pet shop in Christchurch. | Photo credit - AP)

The remote island nation which counts agricultural produce as the main export commodity has been proactive in having a pandemic ready system and revamped its pandemic policy early in 2017. PM Arden while being jubilant with the achieved status clearly mentioned that although new cases may emerge, knowing the nature of the virus: the sustained effort needs to continue. She put the country in unlock mode starting Monday midnight and informed everyone that the COVID Alert Level 1 has been introduced. A house in Auckland, New Zealand turned into a billboard advising everyone to follow the lockdown

(A house in Auckland, New Zealand turned into a billboard advising everyone to follow the lockdown. The combined community effort has been one of the key factors that has enabled the country to become the first corona free nation. | Photo Source – CNN)

What is allowed in New Zealand post 9th June?

  • Most schools, workplaces, and shopping areas will now be open and operate under the prescribed safety guidelines.
  • Sporting activities such as country favourite sport rugby week will now kick-off.
  • Offices and Factories will run as per their normal capacity.
  • There will be no restrictions on public gatherings or personal movement but all commercial establishments are to maintain a record of their visitors and citizens too are required to maintain details of their outings so contact tracing routines are still effective.
  • All Domestic transport is now allowed however a Government advisory is issued, discouraging the use of community transport for the sick.
  • The Health authorities will continue intensive testing during Alert 1.

The Alert Level 1 protocol entails that the Coronavirus has been contained in New Zealand, however, due to its existing prevalence around the world, it does not rule out chances of isolated cases of transmission. It also does not lift the ban on international travel and her sovereign borders will remain closed to foreigners.

New Zealand’s Corona Timeline

  • Feb 28th – 1st COVID positive case was discovered.
  • March 14th – Corona infected tally reaches to six and a 14-day quarantine is mandated by the Government for anyone travelling from abroad.
  • March 20th – Foreign travellers are banned from entering New Zealand and the state orders strict travel restrictions.
  • March 23rd – With the infected count of over 100 Corona Cases, PM Arden orders Level 3 lockdown leading to the closure of all non-essential commercial or personal activities and cancellations of any kind of public gathering and domestic travel. Only the school going children of essential employees were allowed to attend classes.
  • March 25th - A stricter version; Lockdown 4 is imposed along with all cities. Citizens are asked to stay at home and allowed only for essential activities that too in the vicinity of their homes. Social Distancing was enforced as a rule.
  • April 9th - There was a clear decline in COVID 19 cases but the ruling party refused to ease border restrictions despite the opposition discontent.
  • April 9th to June 9th – The state health authorities followed a rapid testing routine, indulged heavily in contact tracing of the victims, and acted swiftly to contain the spread.  Medical Services were ramped up to ensure the best available care for the COVID 19 patients. What is noteworthy is that during this time, PM Jacinda Arden kept open communication with the public through daily press conferences and even Facebook Live sessions and implemented the advice of the well informed medical professionals and experts of communicable viral disease study.

What did the 5 million New Zealanders do that the rest of the world didn’t?

With over 77 lakh being infected with Coronavirus worldwide, New Zealand has witnessed a paltry number of 1154 confirmed infections thus far; even the mortality figure is 22 with the remaining 1132 infected citizens now being fully recovered. The New Zealand Government and citizens have indeed shown the most effective response to the pandemic; something that the rest of the world now needs to follow.

  • Quick Government Response - As compared to the neighbouring New Zealand, Australia has been widely criticized for a slower response to tackle the Pandemic. Whilst the Australian Government and citizens were relying on freak luck, the Kiwi Government announced a strict lockdown on the 25th of March and the public has followed the state’s advisory to the hilt.

Even when compared to an island nation like Iceland with whom the population density and the remote location of New Zealand are comparable. The former has seen much higher infection numbers up to the tune of 25000+. Here’s a comparison between New Zealand and Australian Government’s public message announcing the lockdown. This was widely circulated on Twitter after Ryan Heath (twitter/@PoliticoRyan) posted it. NZ government text message Without mincing of the words, lockdown in New Zealand was swift, strict and the state took optimum measures during public lockdown to restrict the movement of the infected with effective contact tracing.

  • Timely and well-planned #Lockdown in New Zealand The lockdown was quick, well planned and well communicated to her public. As soon as the strict version of lockdown came into effect on 25th of March, the Government relayed messages to all citizens requesting their sincere cooperation.
  • Rapid testing protocols – The country has ramped up the daily testing capacity to 8000 and has tested more than 3,00,000 citizens to date. These figures are amongst the highest in the world in terms of per million testing rate.
  • Geographical Advantage - Some experts are attributing this early success to the remote location of New Zealand and also the fact that the population density is very low which automatically ensures social distancing.

PM Jacinda celebrated the news with a well-deserved little dance number. It is essentially a victory for citizens who acted wisely within their communities and practised all measures prescribed by the Government during lockdown unlike most of the west and south Asia, from where the news of flouting lockdown norms has been pouring on a very regular basis. Arden also gives a mindset of advice to people that it will take time to bring about Pre-COVID normalcy and extreme precautions, testing, and contact tracing are critically important; even today.

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