New Zealand appears to be absolutely crushing the coronavirus. To date, the island nation in the south Pacific Ocean has detected only 1,456 coronavirus cases and 17 related deaths. On Tuesday, the government reported just 5 new cases among a population of 4.9 million people. This is down from 146 new cases reported on March 28. Now officials there, including 39-year-old Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, are aiming to completely eliminate the virus within their borders – and soon.
Skeptics might argue that this is not a significant accomplishment given New Zealand’s small, sparse population. Well, consider the state of Colorado. With a slightly larger population of 5.8 million people, it is roughly the size and density of New Zealand. As of today, Colorado has reported 11,262 coronavirus cases (7 times as many as New Zealand) and 552 related deaths (32 times as many as New Zealand).
Think the low number of cases and deaths in New Zealand are due to limited coronavirus testing? Think again. It has tested 2,244 out of every 100,000 residents. The USA has tested only 1,464 out of every 100,000.
New Zealand has the benefit of being a rather isolated island with no land border with any other nation. This, certainly, has helped the situation. However, many are giving credit to the decisive and effective leadership of Prime Minister Ardern. The progressive social democrat instituted a strict nationwide lockdown in late March, declaring a motto of “Go hard and go early.” She has placed great trust in the nation’s leading scientists and has been direct and open in relaying their assessments. At the same time, she is known for her empathetic approach to governing and her emphasis on social cohesion. She has given frequent briefings during the crisis and has at times appeared on Facebook Live to offer updates and smiling encouragement to the populace. Ms. Ardern regularly ends these appearances with the message, “Be strong. Be kind.”
More remarkable is the degree of unity Ms. Ardern and her team of health officials have fostered in New Zealand. The country’s vibrant and ultra-important tourism industry – which employs 1 in 8 Kiwis – has been economically decimated by the lockdown and closing of borders. Yet, while there was initial resistance, the people – and even opposing political parties – have coalesced behind their charismatic leader. Polling this month shows that 83% of respondents “trust in the government to deal successfully with national problems”, and 88% “trust the government to make the right decisions on Covid-19.” By comparison, only 23% of Americans have “high levels of trust” in what President Trump is telling the public regarding the pandemic, and only 45.9% approve of his administration’s response to the crisis.
Ardern has insisted that the country must remain vigilant and prepared to stamp out flare-ups of the coronavirus. However, on April 27 the government will begin relaxing restrictions, allowing some schools and businesses to reopen.