Irish Examiner view: New Zealand shows how to fight Covid-19

Irish Examiner view: New Zealand shows how to fight Covid-19
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Picture: Hagen Hopkins - Pool/Getty Images

New Zealand yesterday reached a reassuring milestone, marking 100 days without a domestic transmission of Covid-19. Though that must be celebrated, authorities have warned against complacency, as neighbours, even relatively distant neighbours Vietnam and Australia, where the virus had once seemed contained, battle resurgent infection rates.

New Zealand has not reached this point without acceptance of limits to stymie the pandemic’s spread.

Its geographic remoteness is significant, but secondary to assertive, clear thinking turned into public policy.

On February 2, the world recorded the first Covid-19 death outside China.

There were no known cases in New Zealand, yet the very next day, the country began banning entry to any foreigner coming from, or via, China.

As of midnight on March 16, just as the Cheltenham ‘mardi gras’ reached peak conviviality, anyone arriving in the country had to go into self-isolation. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said these early-and-hard measures were the strictest in the world, for which she would “make no apologies”. 

Yesterday’s milestone vindicates that policy.

Events on the other side of the Tasman Sea vindicate it, too, though in a different way. This weekend, Australia recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic, after 17 people died in Victoria. That escalation came as Brazil passed 100,000 deaths. Brazil has recorded more than 3m infections —second to Donald Trump’s ‘best-in-the-world’ America.

Our policies reflect neither New Zealand’s clampdown nor Australia’s nonchalance.

They are, however, increasingly divisive and ignored. That may be understandable, but hardly wise. The decision to lock down Co Kildare, Co Laois, and Co Offaly, because several meat plants are pandemic Petri dishes, could hardly have been welcomed in those counties.

The fact that gardaí cannot take enforcement action against anyone who ignores the lockdown adds confusion and an unhelpful air of slapdash.

That those plants were free to reopen today — though they have thankfully decided not to — adds to the slapdash. 

That many of their employees, like those in private nursing homes, earn minimum pay offers lessons, too. Had those plants reopened, it would have undermined the sacrifice of everyone ensnared in the Midlands lockdown. 

That the Department of Health is, at last, preparing options on restricting non-essential travel from countries outside the EU or Britain with high rates of Covid-19 is hardly inspiring, either.

New Zealand did this, and much more, five months ago. These measures are necessary, if the solidarity needed is to hold. After all, there seems little logic in having Dublin Airport open while Co Kildare is in lockdown.

It is all too easy to snipe at government inconsistencies in trying to contain a rolling pandemic, but they can only lead those who might be led.

This weekend, gardaí had to close beaches in Co Kerry because of crowding.

They also had to deal with flagrant disregard for social distancing in West Cork. This behaviour seems more happy-go-lucky than anything in New Zealand.

Let’s hope we still have time to change, to cop on, so we do not suffer the same fate as those still knowingly underestimating Covid-19.

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