How New Zealand beat COVID-19

Academics from the University of Otago have written an enlightening article in The Conversation explaining how New Zealand eliminated COVID-19:

On Sunday, New Zealand marked 100 days without community transmission of COVID-19.

From the first known case imported into New Zealand on February 26 to the last case of community transmission detected on May 1, elimination took 65 days.

New Zealand relied on three types of measures to get rid of the virus:

  1. ongoing border controls to stop COVID-19 from entering the country
  2. a lockdown and physical distancing to stop community transmission
  3. case-based controls using testing, contact tracing and quarantine.

Collectively, these measures have achieved low case numbers and deaths compared with high-income countries in Europe and North America that pursued a suppression strategy.

New Zealand is one of a small number of jurisdictions – including mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia, Australia and Fiji – pursuing COVID-19 containment or elimination. Most have had new outbreaks. The exceptions are Taiwan, Mongolia, Fiji and New Zealand.

Australia adopted very similar responses to the pandemic and it is important to note that most states and territories are in the same position as New Zealand. But Victoria and, to a lesser extent, New South Wales are seeing a significant resurgence.

The key difference is that New Zealand committed relatively early to a clearly articulated elimination strategy and pursued it aggressively. An intense lockdown proved highly effective at rapidly extinguishing the virus.

This difference can be seen graphically in this stringency index published by Oxford University’s Our World in Data.

CC BY-SA

There are key lessons from New Zealand’s COVID-19 experience.

A vigorous, decisive response to the pandemic was highly effective at minimising cases and deaths. New Zealand has the lowest COVID-19 death rate in the OECD.

Total all-cause deaths also dropped during the lockdown. This observation suggests it did not have severe negative effects on health, although it will almost certainly have some negative long-term effects.

Elimination of the virus appears to have allowed New Zealand to return to near-normal operation fairly rapidly, minimised economic damage compared with Australia. But the economic impact is likely to keep playing out over the coming months.

Getting through the pandemic

We have gained a much better understanding of COVID-19 over the past eight months. Without effective control measures, it is likely to continue to spread globally for many months to years, ultimately infecting billions and killing millions. The proportion of infected people who die appears to be slightly below 1%.

This infection also causes serious long-term consequences for some survivors. The largest uncertainties involve immunity to this virus, whether it can develop from exposure to infection or vaccines, and if it is long-lasting. The potential for treatment with antivirals and other therapeutics is also still uncertain.

This knowledge reinforces the huge benefits of sustaining elimination. We know that if New Zealand were to experience widespread COVID-19 transmission, the impact on Māori and Pasifika populations could be catastrophic.

We have previously described critical measures to get us through this period, including the use of fabric face masks, improving contact tracing with suitable digital tools, applying a science-based approach to border management, and the need for a dedicated national public health agency.

Maintaining elimination depends on adopting a highly strategic approach to risk management. This approach involves choosing an optimal mix of interventions and using resources in the most efficient way to keep the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks at a consistently low level. Several measures can contribute to this goal over the next few months, while also allowing incremental increases in international travel:

  • resurgence planning for a border-control failure and outbreaks of various sizes, with state-of-the-art contact tracing and an upgraded alert level system
  • ensuring all New Zealanders own a re-useable fabric face mask with their use built into the alert level system
  • conducting exercises and simulations to test outbreak management procedures, possibly including “mass masking days” to engage the public in the response
  • carefully exploring processes to allow quarantine-free travel between jurisdictions free of COVID-19, notably various Pacific Islands, Tasmania and Taiwan (which may require digital tracking of arriving travellers for the first few weeks)
  • planning for carefully managed inbound travel by key long-term visitor groups such as tertiary students who would generally still need managed quarantine.

Building back better

New Zealand cannot change the reality of the global COVID-19 pandemic. But it can leverage possible benefits.

We should conduct an official inquiry into the COVID-19 response so we learn everything we possibly can to improve our response capacity for future events.

We also need to establish a specialised national public health agency to manage serious threats to public health and provide critical mass to advance public health generally. Such an agency appears to have been a key factor in the success of Taiwan, which avoided a costly lockdown entirely.

Business as usual should not be an option for the recovery phase. A recent Massey University survey suggests seven out of ten New Zealanders support a green recovery approach.

New Zealand’s elimination of COVID-19 has drawn attention worldwide, with a description just published in the New England Journal of Medicine. We support a rejuvenated World Health Organization that can provide improved global leadership for pandemic prevention and control, including greater use of an elimination approach to combat COVID-19.

Life in New Zealand has largely returned to normal, with the exception of international travel. Accordingly, its economy is bouncing back well.

Our view is that COVID-19 elimination, provided it is coupled with stringent quarantine for returned residents, is far better than aiming for suppression, which necessarily means rolling economic lockdowns and the associated economic carnage.

However, elimination can only be successful with effective quarantining of returning residents. As Melbourne has showed, failure in this area necessarily means importing the virus back into the community.

To eliminate this risk, quarantine periods should be extended (to add an extra buffer), housed in the regions away from populated areas, performed by highly trained (and well paid) staff, and include frequent and rigorous testing.

Being an island nation, effective quarantine is Australia’s number one defence against COVID-19.

Robust quarantine is where the greatest emphasis and resources should be placed.

Leith van Onselen
Latest posts by Leith van Onselen (see all)

Comments

    • kiwikarynMEMBER

      She’s very good in a crisis. But completely useless at delivering anything outside of one. Labour’s policies have been proven naive and undeliverable over the last 3 years, so the chances of her leading NZ back to economic prosperity is practically nil. Labour have even resorted to stealing National policies and claiming them as their own. Although if Labour becomes National in drag, then the economy might actually return to normal. Jacinda has already promised to throw open the border to migrant workers.
      https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/122380097/tick-tick-podcast-jacinda-ardern-says-border-may-open-for-essential-skilled-migrants

      • Migrants who have ‘essential skills’ or migrants, who are ‘may (or more likely, not) skilled’ and are essential to keeping the ponzi economy afloat?

      • I think it’s fair to say that NZ’s economy is not going to thrive while the world is in the grip of an economic depression. I can’t believe that people haven’t got the memo yet. There are still idiots buying homes with the market at its bubbilicious highs!

        Fck me, sorry, but they deserve what’s coming.

    • kiwikarynMEMBER

      NZ beat Covid because its at the bottom of the world, the tourist season was over, the Govt was forewarned and had plenty of time to prepare, and we had hardly any cases to have to contact trace (circa 100 total). Its only been pure luck that all the idiots in charge of border control who let people out of quarantine early, allowed them to drive the length of the north island, and never tested any incoming arrivals for Covid, have not resulted in another outbreak. We’ve had numerous quarantine escapees, and now people are actually breaking into quarantine hotels and getting back out again!

    • She lied about cutting immigration.

      Migrants face £624 annual fee

      Rishi Sunak delivered his maiden budget and quickly announced a major hike in fees for migrants

      Britain is 14% foreign born and NZ is 27% foreign born.

  1. Now if they can just establish an air corridor to let some international students into their universities ….

    Hahahaha!

  2. Would be a great result if this was the 1960’s.
    Not 2020, where New Zealand is reliant upon tourism and off shore house buyers driving their lifestyles?

    • Ronin8317MEMBER

      New Zealand have more tourist outbound than inbound in 2019, so it will work out better for New Zealand if all outbound tourist spend their money in NZ instead.

      • But dollar spend would be different.

        There’s a difference in a Kiwi Maori flying to Brisbane for a long weekend and staying with cuzi bro compared to an American travelling in NZ for two weeks eating out, doing activities and staying in hotels.

    • Aussies Not Doing The Right Thing

      Some people will just have to downsize their lifestyles is all. They’ll still get food and a roof over their heads.

      For others their lives will improve as they aren’t forced to compete with foreigners for shelter and jobs.

  3. Australia adopted very similar responses to the pandemic

    BS. Scummo let infected foreign “students” in.

    Infected people in Melbourne were told to go to work

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8605955/Infected-people-told-work-werent-showing-symptoms.html

    Melbourne

    people have to keep going to work to earn a crust because they’re in financial hardship

    HTF is that a very similar response?

    As Leith said in March:

    Australia needs a temporary universal basic income

    • “Australia needs a temporary universal basic income”

      There’s nothing so permanent as a temporary Gubbermint program. Look at JK and mortgage holidays – even JS. The Govt was deluded thinking they could just end these after a time. Now it’s ‘tapering’ — we’ll see how that works out, but I’m willing to wager there’ll be heaps of ‘stimulus’ in one form or another 12 months from now and 24 months from now – maybe more then there is now.

      Once you get people onto these programs it’s fckn difficult to get them off and change their mindset — and once you’ve extended the bailout it’s even worse! Because you never stuck to the original bargain.

  4. We cant even convince enough people the threat exists….and wearing a mask is an affront to personal liberties… It only takes one fool to ignore the rules because they are special and the lockdown has to go a couple more weeks…..

    I am all for it, I just cant see it being sold as a solution to enough people to actually achieve it.

    • We? Leave WA out of this. We, meaning WA, are perfectly clear on what should happen. The union/green/lefties of Victoria are another matter.

      • Sorry, I meant We as in the general population of Australia. But on that, I dont think WA has been able to convince everyone else in the country either….

      • The CFMEU political wing is running WA too.

        The Victorian economy is obviously a lot more dependent on ponzi immigration than digging holes hence the different approaches.

  5. For this to work you need a clear directive on the strategy from a unified local, state and federal government along with a clear view on what you get if successful (freedom). Enforcement by police is a weak point because there is never enough of them. You need to create a societal construct in which the majority see the benefits and if they see someone flouting the rules they get suitably chastised to conform because the majority want their freedom back.

    If you want to get really smart you have a downloadable app which allows you to photo and dob in a non conformer. The do-gooders would F$%^in love that and guarantee would have better success than the tracing app released.

  6. Re tourism dollars in NZ – does more come in with foreign tourists compared to what NZers spend on foreign travel?

    I would have thought no foreign tourist money, despite a reduction in foreign travel spend by locals, would be a disaster?

  7. erutangisMEMBER

    I guess the question is – can we ever eradicate it here now it’s “out”. With NZ, and wth our first outbreak we were successful at stopping it but the difference was it was all hotel quarantine with just a smattering of community transmission.

    I think VIC is going to get to the end of “stage 4” and still have a troubling amount of local transmission. Can it be put back in the bottle after such an extensive outbreak?

  8. Going for elimination was the correct strategy, but the lockdowns were massively expensive and disruptive to people’s lives, and may prove to have failed if there’s even one small mistake. New Zealanders are not socially distancing, not wearing masks and increasingly not getting tested. So risk of a renewed outbreak is high.

    As for the economy, as of end-July, 192k people were reliant on jobseeker support, up from 145k before the lockdown, that’s indicative of about a 7% unemployment rate. Then there’s 466k people still on the Wage Subsidy Scheme, out of a total working age population of about 2.9 million. That scheme ends in September. People haven’t drawn on their pension as in Australia but we’ve seen a collapse in the OCR, massive use of QE and the build up of about $22bn in settlement cash. Some 20bn in loans are currently moved to interest only and a further $24.3bn is in mortgage holiday. When the wage subsidy ends, we will see another wave of mortgage delinquencies.

    Clearly the country is not, by far, back to normal despite appearances.

    So MB, PLEASE stop pushing the bullshit line that NZ is so much better run than Australia. It isn’t… which is why kiwis migrate to Aussie and why our incomes are 30% lower…

  9. .
    .
    – “Meanwhile, New Zealand, which just celebrated 100 days with no local virus transmission, just saw ANZ business confidence FALL from -31.8 to -42.4 and the business outlook from -8.9 to -17. You can beat Covid-19, but if you are doing it all alone then you are still facing a very hard slog. Wait until nobody turns up for the key summer tourist season and imagine how things will look. Let’s see what the RBNZ has to say when they meet later this week.”

    https://www.zerohedge.com/markets/rabo-once-again-global-architecture-risk-collapse-which-perfect-environment-markets-keep

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