On March 21, the New Zealand Prime Minister addressed the population in an official statement. The country had recorded 52 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and Jacinda Ardern announced a new four-tier alert system that is increasingly stringent to deal with the virus. He did not use warlike language or speak to them of wars or seek scapegoats. His message focused on appealing to the “community mindset” that New Zealanders have in his opinion. “We may not have experienced something like this in our lives, but we know how to take care of each other, and right now what could be more important than that,” he said before repeating what has been his mantra: “Please be strong and be nice. ”RELATED
A few days later, when he announced that the country would enter the highest level of restrictions, with the general order to stay at home, he again asked citizens to support each other. “Go home tonight and check on your neighbors. Start a phone chain on their street. Plan how you will stay in touch with each other. We will get through this together, but only if we stick together.” It was also forceful, ensuring that behaviors that put other people’s lives at risk would not be tolerated.
In recent weeks, Jacinda Ardern has made headlines around the world for her leadership in managing the coronavirus epidemic. In the opinion of many, she is one of the most outstanding leaders of this crisis.
It was not the first time that Adern received international attention in a positive tone. A little over a year ago, she faced her first major crisis as Prime Minister, the terrorist attack on two mosques in the city of Christchurch that claimed the lives of 50 people.
Ardern’s response was praised globally, with a speech that was not focused on revenge, but on supporting and comforting the affected community and announcing political reforms to restrict the use of weapons. With clarity and firmness, calling the attack “terrorist” and calling to confront racism, but also with empathy, condensed in its famous motto: “We are one, they are us.”
Once again, as the coronavirus crisis puts governments around the world to the test, the New Zealand leader sets her own style again and comes out on top well both outside and within her borders. Analysts have again highlighted as points their empathy in public statements and their communication skills. One of the most striking examples has been your live conversations on Facebook, answering questions and doubts about confinement: “We are very interested in you staying at home, in what we call your bubble, the bubble of the people you will be with for the next four weeks.”
But experts have also highlighted their determination to manage the crisis, with strict and early measures, after observing what was happening in other countries such as Italy. “In New Zealand, we have set out to fight hard and soon,” he said in his message to the nation.
“Jacinda is a brilliant communicator and an empathetic leader. But what she has said also makes sense and I think people have really trusted her, there has been a high level of compliance,” has stated to the BBC, Michael Baker, a professor in the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, who has advised the Government in its response. “Science and leadership have to go together” for the response to a pandemic to be effective, Baker says. In early April, about 88% of New Zealanders showed their support for government management, according to a survey of 600 people.
The country, an island with just five million inhabitants, has detected far fewer cases of coronavirus than other territories, around 1,500 and around twenty deaths. The strategy followed has placed New Zealand in a large part of the international press in the group of territories that have managed to control the outbreak with some success. “New Zealand is not only flattening the curve. It is crushing it,” he titled last April 7 andl Washington Post.
For some experts, the key lies in what they have called an “elimination approach” versus a “mitigation” approach. That is, as New Zealand specialists have explained, choosing to “introduce strong measures at the beginning” of the emergency to prevent the virus from entering instead of increasing restrictions on measures that the epidemic advances.
“New Zealand did not adopt the phase-out strategy until mid-March. Until then, the country was adopting an approach similar to that of Australia. Both countries were following their plans based on managing influenza pandemics. Both were applying increasing restrictions controls to “keep it out”, and controls were increased after March 15 to require 14-day self-isolation periods for all arrivals, “summarizes Baker, along with another professor at the University of Otago, Nick Wilson, in this article from The Guardian.
As of March 23, the strategy changed direction and on March 26 the entire country entered confinement. “By putting the country in massive quarantine for a month, it extinguished many Covid-19 transmission chains. This period gave us much-needed time to increase the critical measures required for the removal to work, such as the most stringent border quarantine , expanded testing and contact tracing, and additional surveillance measures, “experts say. “It was also probably the only way to ensure that the population quickly adhered to the physical distancing behaviors necessary to extinguish viral transmission chains.”
In his opinion, the turning point for many specialists was to find that the new virus was more similar to SARS than influenza and “could be eliminated even after community transmission had been established.” Also check the management achievements of countries like South Korea or Singapore. “In western countries it was also becoming clear that the ‘flatten the curve’ mitigation strategy was’ failing, as health services were being overwhelmed across Europe,” they argue.
For British epidemiologist Devi Sridhar, New Zealand is in an “enviable position” that can allow its society and economy to “go back to work.” “They have the outbreak under control and can handle the drop in cases in the short term while waiting for the scientific solution.” write in this column.
However, it is still early to claim victory and there is still a chance that the strategy will fail. The country remains confined, although the Prime Minister announced last Monday that as of April 28, some measures will be lowered, although she will maintain isolation for another two weeks for most of the population. “We have done what very few countries have been able to do. We have stopped a wave of devastation,” said the Labor leader.
Various experts advising the Government they had asked to extend the level alert to consolidate progress in reducing infection rates. However, Ardern has also faced criticism from the opposition, who has begun to question whether to extend the blockade it does more harm than lifting it and has accused the prime minister of harming business owners with her measures.
On the other hand, as in most affected countries, the most vulnerable New Zealanders are being particularly hard hit. According to the Ministry of Social Development, the amount of food subsidies it has increased from around 25,000 a week to 70,000 after closing. At the local level, emergency food banks have also had to be launched.