The Real Reasons New Zealand Is Beating COVID-19
From May 23, 2020, to June 15, 2020, New Zealand experienced absolutely zero new coronavirus cases. These numbers stand in stark contrast to the totals coming in from many other countries around the world, including the United States, which reported more than 500,000 new cases during that time.
The disparity between these infection rates has prompted many to question just how New Zealand was able to beat COVID-19 — even if the reprieve only lasted for a short time. Let’s take a look at what the country is doing right, so we can follow their lead.
Free Community Testing
While the initial testing procedures in New Zealand instructed healthcare workers to only test those who had recently traveled and were experiencing multiple COVID-19 symptoms, the country quickly eased these restrictions to allow for greater testing. New Zealand has about 4.8 million people, and fewer than .03% of the population has caught the novel coronavirus to date.
In contrast, nearly 6% of the country’s population was tested for COVID-19 between late February and late May. Free voluntary testing was offered in supermarkets all across the country, allowing scientists to get a glimpse into small and large communities and monitor if the virus was still infecting new people in those areas.
If the New Zealand government had waited to secure testing supplies for its citizens and failed to implement widespread testing procedures, it's possible the virus could have spread much faster. Individuals with confirmed diagnoses of COVID-19 must isolate themselves to remove the risk to their community, and widespread testing makes that safety measure possible. With greater testing comes greater societal safety, shorter lockdown periods and more rapid medical response to those who need it the most.
Three days before New Zealand experienced its first real respite from COVID-19, the country’s Ministry of Health released the NZ COVID Tracer app. This smartphone/tablet application encourages citizens to set up an account with their personal information and then allow the app to monitor their movements via scannable QR codes on the exteriors of buildings. GPS features may be added in the future.
Users who access the app can also report troubling symptoms. After the symptoms are reviewed, the user may be referred to a nearby testing facility. If they test positive, they will receive an abundance of information about self-isolating at home, or they can immediately seek treatment at a medical center.
Contact tracing has allowed the government to deploy supplies and services to those with the greatest need. While some may not approve of the monitoring aspect involved in contact tracing, it has helped quell the coronavirus outbreak. With each passing week, contact tracing helps eliminate the resurgence of new cases.
Stay-at-home pleas and campaigns often came too late and received too little enforcement in countries such as Italy, England and the United States. New Zealand's citizens began self-isolating in March, and they took the shelter-in-place mentality seriously.
It helped that the nation's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, used Facebook to communicate with her fellow Kiwis throughout the shelter-in-place period. Her down-to-earth nature, friendliness and requests for kindness and understanding helped encourage others to follow suit. Citizens were allowed to leave their homes for essential needs, but the streets quickly became barren places.
With the majority of the population staying safe in their homes, the spread of the virus immediately stagnated and finally ceased. This trend is one of the most powerful examples of what a dedicated, compassionate and careful community can do to protect themselves from COVID-19. Because this mutual lockdown was so successful, the country began to lift restrictions only a month or so after its initial inception.
Communication between the New Zealand government and its people has been exceptionally straightforward and clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mostly, this communication came in the form of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Facebook chats, although official press conferences were held before and after the shelter-in-place period.
Still, the people in New Zealand saw their elected leader taking extreme measures to protect herself, her family and her fellow citizens from catching the novel coronavirus. She had no qualms about washing her hands, restricting her outdoor movement and activities, and using a face mask and gloves when she had to buy groceries.
She provided an excellent example for others to follow, and she made a habit of logging on and opening a dialogue between herself and her constituents via Facebook Live. These consistent and heartfelt updates kept citizens informed and calm and ultimately helped curb continued panic-buying and stockpiling.
While the Prime Minister was administering hopeful talks from home, the people were listening. For the most part, every New Zealand resident took the growing threat of infection seriously and did their part to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
This waterfall of protective action began with government suggestions and ended at home, where parents discussed safety measures and social distancing with their children. Before schools began to close, instructors prepared their students by addressing personal health and safety techniques (handwashing, wearing a mask, not touching your eyes or mouth).
From the most powerful residents to the most impoverished, New Zealand's citizens worked together to stop COVID-19 in its tracks. Unfortunately, the worldwide fight against the novel coronavirus is far from over.
New Cases and Continued Efforts
On June 16, 2020, New Zealand reported its first new cases in more than three weeks. The virus seems to have re-entered the country via two female travelers from the United Kingdom. The women are currently being monitored and kept in isolation, and contact tracing has already helped officials find another infected individual in the Wellington area. A total of 302 individuals — all of whom had some contact with the two women — are currently being tracked and monitored for signs of infection.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand responded to these new cases by deploying military personnel to enforce proper quarantine processes for travelers. In addition, the country’s borders will remain closed for the foreseeable future, which may also help curb infection rates.
The two women who recently brought the virus back into New Zealand were allowed to enter to visit an ill relative. If New Zealand and other countries around the world continue the course of action previously taken by the country, we could see dramatic improvements around the world.