New Zealand: A model for curbing the virus - GulfToday

New Zealand: A model for curbing the virus

Jacinda Ardern

Experts say New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Facebook Live appearances and reassuring messages have led to an 80% approval rating. AP

Exactly a year after New Zealand recorded its first coronavirus case, the biggest city of Auckland woke up on Sunday to a second lockdown this month, as authorities try to keep a cluster of the more contagious UK variant in check.

The seven-day lockdown of a population of nearly 2 million, announced late on Saturday by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, was prompted by the case of a person who had been infectious for a week but not in isolation.

The move follows a three-day stay-at-home order in mid-February after the UK variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 emerged in New Zealand. About 14 cases are linked to the cluster.

The new lockdown, part of Level 3 curbs, lets people leave home only for essential shopping and work, while public venues will stay shut. Curbs elsewhere in New Zealand are to be tightened to Level 2, setting limits on public gatherings.

The measures have disrupted several key events set for Auckland next week.

The America’s Cup yacht race was postponed on Sunday and the Twenty20 International cricket match has been shifted to Wellington, to be played behind closed doors on Friday.

A popular Lantern Festival due to start next weekend has also been cancelled.

Last week, New Zealand said it will remove remaining coronavirus restrictions from Auckland after an outbreak discovered in the largest city fades away. Ardern said more than 72,000 tests had found no evidence the virus was spreading in the community.

Auckland was placed into a three-day lockdown this month after a mother, father and daughter tested positive. Another five contacts later tested positive.

In 2020, New Zealand pulled off a feat that remains the envy of most other nations: It eliminated the coronavirus. New Zealand’s swift measures during the past year, combined with aggressive contact tracing and border closure, have been credited for its success in restraining the pandemic.

However, the nation’s success in battling the coronavirus has unleashed an unanticipated problem: skyrocketing house prices.

When the pandemic first hit, most experts predicted house prices would fall. Instead, prices have spiralled than 19% over the past year, putting them out of reach for many people wanting to buy their first home.

The goal to curb the coronavirus was driven as much by fear as it was ambition, Ardern revealed in an interview. She said the target grew from an early realisation the nation’s health system simply couldn’t cope with a big outbreak.

Truly, the nation is a model for the world to follow. New Zealand’s response to the virus has been among the most successful, together with actions taken by China, Taiwan and Thailand early on in the pandemic. The country of five million has counted just 25 deaths and managed to stamp out the spread of COVID-19, allowing people to return to workplaces, schools and packed sports stadiums without restrictions.

Border closures and a strict lockdown in March got rid of the disease, and New Zealand went 102 days without any community spread. But then came the August outbreak in Auckland, which led to an immediate lockdown, that remains unexplained but likely originated abroad.

Genome testing of the latest batch of infections in August has confirmed it is a new strain, officials have said, probably from Australia or Britain.

For the world to begin to return to normal, Ardern said, there needs to be comprehensive work around ensuring that everybody can get vaccinated against COVID-19 and putting in place a vaccine certification process that would allow people to travel.

International cooperation continues to be key to getting the virus under control.

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