COVID: Countries That Have Beaten the Virus VS. Countries That Are Still Struggling
Written by: Krishna and Tanya
Date: February 2021
Since the first reported cases of COVID-19 right before the beginning of 2020, the virus has draped the world like a storm, and some of the biggest countries like the United States and the United Kingdom have found themselves struggling with the virus. As of February 12, 2021, the United States has reported 27.5 million cases with 481,000 deaths, and the United Kingdom has reported 4.01 million cases with 116,000 deaths. While countries like these have been unable to eradicate the virus and return to normal life, some countries such as New Zealand have been able to handle the virus correctly. We will be analyzing and looking over how to use what they have done to handle the virus and how to apply it to countries that are falling behind in that aspect.
New Zealand’s barricade against the virus has taken the world by storm. As cases start to lower across the globe, our eyes turn to one of the most successful of nations that have dealt with the pandemic. At the end of June 2020, as cases skyrocketed in the United States, United Kingdom and started growing in India, New Zealand reported two infections. At the start of June, New Zealand’s cases had dropped to zero, until these two.
While in some countries corruption was rampant and new problems blossomed in handling the pandemic’s various hotspots, in New Zealand, after a month without a single case, the two diagnoses led to public irritation and the resignation of the health minister. They then banned entry to any foreigner whose travels had passed through China: and extended it to Iran soon, plus South Korea, northern Italy, or any symptomatic person. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made “no apologies” for her strict regulations and in late March closed the borders entirely to nearly all nonresidents (and non-citizens, of course).
When COVID-19 hit New Zealand, hence (the “first time”) they went into lockdown early, with 102 cases and no deaths reported in the ensuing months. Since at that time there were but a few thousand cases worldwide, and so less “perforation” or influx of infected people for community transmission to start. Their low population (and as such, much smaller pool of possibly infected people to “scan” and “isolate” for the virus) plus their highly efficient government system might’ve had to contribute something to it.
With a four-stage alert system based on wildfire alerts (which meant people were already familiar with the signaling system and could apply the same community “alertness” when they heard it sounded), even at the peak, NZ had merely 89 cases in a day (again, their efficient government and low populace might have a role). Plus, eighty percent of people backed the government’s lockdowns and fines for breaches.
Economic strain, yet, is heavy on NZ: but they have not gotten lax with regulation, despite it being a tourist destination. The officials there, in interviews with international journalists, expressed surprise that “top tech” countries like the “UK and the US” haven’t developed a similar system of containment. However, there weren't any entirely revolutionary ideas, but their efficiency of implementation was the revolutionary thing. For example, New Zealand created and used disease models to make informed decisions: but they did not entertain political controversy or corporate juggling that could jeopardize their efficiency at any point, making their effort stand out amongst several countries battling the pandemic at the same time. That despite some reports showing, in mid-March, that the country didn’t have enough resources (i.e. test equipment). Far beyond “limited resources”, nevertheless, New Zealand shifted, with aggressive scientific research from a “containment model to elimination-of-disease model.”
The government organized strict lockdown in March lasted for seven weeks (while in several countries, it has had to last months and months): added to that government mandate, people followed the order in large percentages, leading to the last large batch of COVID cases in NZ to be in late May.
However, I would not be so ready to say it’s “the best and miraculous handling” or something like that, because the populace of NZ is quite developed and educated, the country suffers from fewer elections and disruptions like the US did when the pandemic began, fake news and panicking was naturally lower, and the dispersion of population is not imbalanced as in the case of large or dense populations, which enabled the government’s research-based orders to be followed publicly to the fullest, without police brutality or related misadventures. It was not mere luck, it was work.
There are four general things we can learn from this: to follow/use science, the government must be efficient and non-corrupt enough to accept its scientific validity and issue proper guidelines. The people must be educated enough to know the reasoning behind it all; it follows that communication to the public is necessary too, with proper channels of communication to not spread misinformation or disinformation; and once the public has understood the governmental mandates, there must be less unrest or political troublemakers, which will allow them to fully follow all these mandates. Finally, there must be the equipment necessary. Civil equipment (unity) as well as material equipment (masks).
In other words, countries like the United States still have a decent amount of work to do if they wish to combat this virus. In the US, there is a considerable amount of freedom that is allocated to the population, and with that should come the responsibility of educating these people to ensure that they are making educated decisions for themselves and the people around them. It also goes deeper in the form of politics and making sure that the leaders of the nation are making these same educated decisions and coming together rather than making the situation a political issue, further confusing and also scaring millions. With that said, other regulations are needed to be able to bring the country back to its former state. Regulations like mandatory (proper) mask-wearing, severe travel restrictions, social distancing, and limit of social gathering should be regulations that are not only enforced but also mandated. We can see that, for example, social media influencers can go against the guidelines with little to no repercussions for their actions, and the population that they are influencing also goes out and end up doing the same thing. We must learn from countries like New Zealand. New Zealand’s success cannot be dismissed, because it is not an isolated island but a very prominent tourist destination and a fair population density: however, we should learn from it and apply its principles to our larger nations, whether it be a miracle or not.