Health officials in New Zealand said they’re still pursuing a covid-19 strategy of complete elimination, including the use of aggressive lockdowns, despite the rise in cases over the past few days. And it’s driving right-wingers around the world absolutely nuts.
“It’s too soon to throw in the towel. We’ve come this far. It would be an absolute waste for us to give up on this now,” top covid-19 health official Chris Hipkins said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“Of course, we do want to get to the point where lockdowns aren’t the answer to potential outbreaks in the community, but we’re not there yet. And we’re not willing to give up before we get to that point,” Hipkins continued.
New Zealand reported 63 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, the single largest jump since March, bringing the total of this most recent outbreak in the country to 210 cases. The government announced that 198 cases are in the city of Auckland and 12 are in Wellington. New Zealand currently has 12 people in hospital with the disease, an increase of three since Tuesday. No one is currently in ICU.
New Zealanders have been in a hard lockdown, known in the country as Alert Level 4, over the past eight days following the emergence of a mystery case on August 17. People in New Zealand are only permitted to leave their homes for a handful of reasons, including exercise, picking up essential items like food, receiving medial care, and getting tested for covid-19.
“While this is steady growth, it is not exponential. We do know that our actions to slow the spread of the virus we’ll begin to see a slowing of those numbers increasing. And indeed the fact that the increase is not exponential is explicitly because we have Alert Level 4 in place,” another top health official, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, said at the press conference Wednesday.
New Zealand’s covid-zero strategy has been tremendously successful so far, with just 3,096 total cases and 26 total death since the pandemic began last year. The nation of five million people has been able to live relatively free lives, thanks to an extensive system of contact tracing and hard lockdowns when even a small number of cases emerge.
With covid-19's incubation period of roughly 2-14 days, any lockdown measures are unlikely to see real results for about two weeks, which is one of the reasons that right wingers who are so quick to throw in the towel are embarrassing themselves.
For some reason, right-wingers in other countries are furious that New Zealand has introduced recent restrictions to control the spread of covid-19. A quick search of “dictator Ardern” on any social media site will give you plenty of instances where right wing idiots seem to believe New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has somehow turned the country into North Korea.
The journalist Glenn Greenwald, for example, a right-wing libertarian who’s sometimes confused for a left-winger, recently tweeted about the “president” of New Zealand telling people not to chat with their neighbors.
“Yesterday, some Australian official decreed that citizens are not allowed to take their masks off outside to consume alcohol. Today, the President of New Zealand orders citizens *not to talk to their neighbors*. They seem demented, oblivious to the costs of sustained isolation,” Greenwald tweeted after New Zealand’s lockdown was announced.
The only problem, of course, is that 1) New Zealand has a prime minister, not a president, and 2) Greenwald has absolutely no idea what’s he’s talking about.
New Zealand hasn’t been in anything close to a prolonged lockdown that anyone would call “sustained isolation.” The country has been living normally for the vast majority of 2021. And not “normal” like 50% restaurant capacity and constant masks. New Zealand has been living the normal that you might recognize from 2019, before the pandemic began—no masks, full stadiums, everything wide open.
Just look at some of these recent photos from earlier this year, if you don’t believe it.
And Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s plea was to temporarily not talk with your neighbors in an effort to stop the spread of covid-19, something that most reasonable people would accommodate. Perhaps most importantly, 84% of New Zealanders support the current lockdown, according to the latest polling.
If New Zealand can be criticized for anything, it’s a slow vaccine rollout, yet that’s another element of the pandemic that some people outside of New Zealand seem to misunderstand. Again, Glenn Greenwald is a shining example of not getting the point.
“I’ve taken COVID very seriously. I isolated with my family from the start, wore masks, got vaccinated the first day I could. But the refusal of policy makers to weigh the *substantial mental & physical harms from ongoing restrictions, even in a post-vaccine world, is maddening,” Greenwald tweeted in a follow-up about New Zealand.
Greenwald, as a wealthy man living in a gated community in Brazil, might feel like it’s a post-vaccine world, but most countries haven’t gotten a majority of their population vaccinated yet. Roughly 1.92 billion people are fully vaccinated, meaning that about 24.6% of the world has been vaccinated against covid-19. But New Zealand’s vaccination rate is just 19.4% at the moment, something that you can certainly blame on the government’s slow rollout and lack of urgency with so few cases.
Taiwan, another country that’s pursued a covid-zero strategy, reported zero covid-19 cases on Wednesday, the first time the country has done that since May, though that outbreak was driven by the alpha strain of the virus.
New Zealand’s current outbreak was seeded by a recent outbreak in Australia and genomic testing shows it’s the delta strain. New Zealand’s covid-zero strategy worked well previously when the predominant strain wasn’t the delta variant, but we’re about to see just how difficult it is to suppress delta in a tightly controlled environment.