New Zealand is one of the first countries to successfully eliminate COVID-19 entirely from its population, this is a substantial milestone in the worlds’ fight against the pandemic. Because of this, it has been recognised through the global media and they have been celebrating with us as we commemorate our achievement.
In N.Z., as of June 8th, we began to feel freedom we haven’t felt since March. Our lives are essentially back to normal apart from the tight border restrictions still in place. Weddings, 21st’s, summer graduations, religious gatherings, and concerts are back on, and things are starting to look up for our nation.
As a nation of 5 million we went hard, acted quickly, and eliminated it with force. On March 25th, we closed our borders and locked down our country for five weeks of complete isolation, followed by two weeks of semi-isolation. This resulted in a drastic decline of the COVID-19 spread, in quicker pace than in countries where isolation was held off until, essentially, it was too late. The rest of the world is still very much still in the midst of the pandemic, with an average of 140,000 cases and 5,000 deaths still being recorded per day.
As of June 10th there has been zero new cases for 19 consecutive days; moreover, there are no active cases. However, to get to zero cases our country’s economy has taken a huge hit. The unemployment rate increased to 4.5% leaving around 39,000 people out of work. Our GDP is also at a record low, “We assume [COVID-19] will cause the economy to shrink by around 6 per cent of GDP over 2020, considerably above the sub 3 per cent cumulative falls to NZ production-based GDP in the early 1990s downturn and the Global Financial Crisis,’’ said Mark Smith, a senior economist at ASB Bank.
Our tourism industry is and will for the next few years take a massive hit; tourism makes up 5.8% of our GDP and is our biggest export industry which equates for 20.4% of foreign exchange earnings. The industry also employs around 230,000 people.
The massive hit we will be facing is largely due to the border restrictions that will be in place indefinitely. In the future, we will slowly begin to allow people from, certain countries to enter ours, provided that they also have the pandemic under control, thus posing no threat to us. Anyone entering our country is required by the government to isolate for 14 days. Such measure discourages non-essential travel to N.Z.
Our tourism industry will now be relying almost solely on domestic traveling, in other words, being tourists in our own country. For Kiwi’s it will be an excellent time to explore new and exciting hotspots as the decrease in tourists will be significant – meaning shorter lines, views without people blocking it, and great opportunities for photography enthusiasts!
What does our zero cases mean to the rest of the world?
We are as a nation are a leading example on how to follow rules and essentially ‘ride out COVID-19’ with minimal deaths.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has become a role model, not only for the procedures she and her team put in place to eliminate COVID-19, but also for how she handled an extremely stressful situation with grace and professionalism (see my most recent article for more on this). As a nation we hope that the way Ardern and our country addressed and fought this pandemic is something that others will learn by, and that it is not too late to take action.
One important question on everyone’s minds is about the possibility of a 2nd wave of cases hitting N.Z. However, Ardern and Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, the Director General of Health, are almost certain that another outbreak will not occur. This is because the only way for the virus to re-enter N.Z. is through people coming into the country, but the possibility of another outbreak is extremely limited because of the measures put into place, such as:
1) A strict 14-day isolation period required when some enters the country;
2) The extremely detailed contact tracing that the government has and will apply to every new case. This process began with our very first case earlier this year, and throughout the 1,154 cases the way this is done has improved dramatically, with next to zero faults.
Even though our economy has and will continue to take a huge hit in many different sectors, it will, from now on, have the resources to begin recovering at a much faster rate than if we had a weaker and slower response to the pandemic. This means that the loss of employment, tourism, and overall economic decline will be much less than what it could have been.
“We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now, but elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort. We will almost certainly see cases here again. That is not a sign that we have failed – it is a reality of this virus,” said Prime Minister Ardern. When asked how did she react to the positive news Ardern responded, “I did a little dance.’’
As a nation we should be extremely proud of our efforts and sacrifices we have made to achieve such a significant point in history