The New Zealand response to the COVID crisis has been one that should be held up as the gold standard in COVID responses. In response to a single case, now risen to 31, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern once again shuts the country down. Stamping it out at every opportunity has meant that her country has suffered only 26 fatalities since COVID first appeared. Why have other countries, including us in the UK, not learned from what they’ve proved works?
An unvaccinated man from Auckland, New Zealand had tested positive for the Delta variant. Considered infectious since the 12th August, he was identified on the 17th August and from midnight that night, the whole country was put straight into level 4 of lockdown, the strictest level of lockdown they have. Schools shut, everyone stays home except for medical treatment, exercise or to collect essential shopping. All work ceases except for essential workers. The virulence of the Delta variant means this one identified case has now become 31, which, compared to UK stats, is absolutely nothing, awful as our response has been but given New Zealand has become renowned around the world for eliminating COVID and keeping it that way, how has it got in?
If you want to visit New Zealand these days, you have to jump through some serious hoops. Only New Zealand residents and their families can enter, along with Australian residents who’s main residence in in New Zealand, certain people due to their work – air travel workers for instance and people from places designated quarantine free zones, which basically only covers Australia and a few South Pacific islands.
Everybody else has to go through 14 days of Managed Isolation or Quarantine, their MIQ system. You need to have tested negative before departure. Upon arrival you must spend 14 days in isolation and you have to have arranged a placement in an MIQ facility before you leave for New Zealand too. They won’t let you on the plane without proof of this! It’s not a case of going where you want and holing up, they want to make sure you’re isolating so you go to a facility before you go anywhere else. You get tested repeatedly. If you test positive, you move to a quarantine facility, if you continue to test negative, you do your isolation period and are then free to go wherever you choose. These border controls have meant that despite seeing Delta variants show up at their borders – these MIQ facilities – since June, not until now have they had an outbreak of this variant, they’ve successfully kept the country clear. So what happened?
Well the outbreak has been linked through genome sequencing to New South Wales, Australia. Although Australia is in a quarantine free zone, this was suspended back in July as a precaution due to rising cases there, so its not a clear picture at all as to how this has happened, though the Australian island of Tasmania was not restricted from being a quarantine free zone at the same time as the mainland, so it may have come through there, before that route was closed off as well.
What has happened is of those 31 cases, 19 have been linked, the remainder remain under investigation and 1189 contacts have already been identified, all in the space of some 48 hours.
Compare that to here in the UK. 36,572 new cases on the 19th August. Cases rising again even before schools return for most of us. No masks required, no social distancing, everyone back to work, no mitigations being put in place in schools before they return, so expect cases to rise even further and faster with all the consequences we know that brings as we head into another COVID winter. ‘Oh but the vaccine will protect us’ people will cry. Well with still only 75% of the adults in the UK double vaccinated, still nobody under the age of 16 vaccinated, and we’re only now starting to vaccine 16 and 17 years olds, but only with one dose! We’re still seeing hospital admissions and we’re still seeing people dying. None of the vaccines are 100%, on their own they are not sufficient so if you consider that good enough, then you’re a sociopath in my book. 36,572 versus 31. Jacinda Ardern vs Boris Johnson. Don’t tell me what we’re doing in the UK is good enough.
We could’ve adopted what they’ve done in New Zealand, we’re an island nation too. Just because our population is a lot bigger shouldn’t be an excuse not to, it should be a reason to move faster and its an advantage over nations with land borders we could’ve used to our advantage. One of the most incompetent and stupefying aspects of our COVID response from the start was the sheer lack of travel restrictions. We basically threw COVID the red carpet.
Of course Ardern has her critics – they’re puerile, but they’re there. The most common one is that New Zealanders are prisoners in pursuit of Zero Covid. She hasn’t just pursued zero COVID, she’s achieved it. I have no doubt she’ll achieve it again and once more New Zealanders will be able to ditch their masks, ditch social distancing, go out to eat, to the cinema and socialise in all the ways we used to, but they can do so safe in the knowledge nobody is going to catch COVID. Sounds pretty freeing to me.
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