New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
(AP Photo/Mark Baker)
The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. keeps getting worse. China is just starting to reopen its society. South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore are managing their outbreaks with the help of massive contact tracing detective work. But New Zealand, which saw its first confirmed case on Feb. 28, is on track to stop its outbreak before it ever had a chance to begin. That’s likely thanks to early and decisive nationwide action by its government.
The small country of nearly 4.8 million people was able to quickly contain the virus and appears to have a real chance of wiping it out entirely, The Washington Post reported. As of April 7, according to the New Zealand Ministry of Health, the country has logged 1,160 confirmed and suspected cases in the country and just one death. More people recovered in the last 24 hours (65) than were found to have been infected (54), suggesting that the local outbreak is declining.
Moreover, as of April 7, just one person is known to have died of the disease, according to Worldometer, which tracks COVID-19 cases around the globe.
The key to success has been a straightforward, two-pronged strategy led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Early in March, according to The Washington Post, the country began to instruct all international visitors — in normal times, the country gets as many as 4 million tourists a year — to self-isolate for 14 days. Then on March 19, the tourism-dependent nation fully closed its borders to international visitors, a move that was likely effective because it came before community spread took off locally.
Just as importantly, according to The Washington Post, the Ardern government pushed a strong “stay home” message beginning early in the crisis, and implemented a strong social distancing order as of March 23. The order shut schools and nonessential services and banned many outdoor activities. New Zealanders (including immigrants) have also received recurring payments from the government designed to make it easier to people to avoid working. A member of Ardern’s government caught mountain biking and beach going with his family even faced public condemnation from the prime minister. And, according to the post, Ardern’s political rivals have not taken any steps to minimize the crisis.
New Zealand plans to keep strict social distancing measures in place for at least a full month, according to Ardern. If current trends continue, that could put the country on pace to begin reopening its society sooner than the U.S. or Europe, even as it enters the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months.
Originally published on Live Science.