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New Zealand has recorded 1 death from the pandemic. Here's how they did it

Halfway through a month-long lockdown to contain and eliminate the novel coronavirus, the country has seen a decline in new coronavirus cases for four consecutive days.

New Zealand has recorded 1 death from the pandemic. Here's how they did it
Image Source: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament on March 31, 2020, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins - Pool/Getty Images)

New Zealand, a small island country with a population of just under 5 million, has in recent weeks emerged a shining example of pandemic management. The country has in a short time somehow managed to do what many countries are struggling with at the moment: flattening the curve. Halfway through a month-long lockdown to contain and eliminate the novel coronavirus, it has seen a decline in new coronavirus cases for four consecutive days; a feat which speaks volumes for the benefits of proper testing, competent leaders, and pre-emptive measures based on the warning signs which America, unfortunately, chose to ignore.


"We are turning a corner," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a speech broadcasted live on Facebook this week. "And your commitment means our plan is working." According to CNN, New Zealand reported 29 new confirmed and probable cases on Thursday, bringing its total number of cases to 1,239, which includes one death. Of these, 317 have recovered and only 14 are currently hospitalized. Although some countries would take these reassuring numbers as a sign that it's okay to lift restrictions, Ardern is taking no chances with the health and safety of her people.


"Removing restrictions now would allow the virus to spread rapidly once again and we would be back to the starting line within two weeks," she stated at a press conference Thursday. The Prime Minister announced that she's tightening border restrictions further, requiring New Zealanders returning to the country to spend two weeks quarantined in an approved facility, rather than self-isolating at home. Foreign nationals have been banned from entering the country since March 20. "At the halfway mark, I have no hesitation in saying that what New Zealanders have done over the last two weeks is huge," said Ardern. "You made the decision that together, we could protect one other. And you have. You have saved lives. But as I've said, this is going to be a marathon."


The country's triumph over the pandemic is largely due to two things: geography and time. It confirmed its first case of coronavirus on February 28—over a month after the United States—and on March 29, confirmed its first—and so far, only—death. Speaking of the advantage time gave them, Professor Michael Baker—from Otago University's Public Health Department—who helped advise the government on its response, said: "I think we had a little bit more time to think about it, and we could learn from the experience of China."


While Auckland University microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles believes that being an island far from most other countries has also given New Zealand an advantage, Baker credits the combination of good science and leadership for the country's commendable response to the outbreak. He expressed disappointment in countries like the US and the UK—some of the world's top science resources—failing to handle the situation better than those like New Zealand that have comparatively limited resources. "We have the same access to the same knowledge as you do -- the whole world has seen this coming, it's like a slow-moving tsunami, it hasn't changed its characteristics at all, and the virus is very stable," he pointed out.


Despite having good reason to be cautiously optimistic about the country's success over the pandemic, Ardern has no plans to lift the month-long lockdown early. In fact, she's even considering the possibility of extending it. "If we move too early, we will go backwards," she explained. Baker said that simply stamping out the virus right now isn't enough as it is crucial that the nation also prepare its health system for large numbers of severely ill people. "We'll be in the same boat as most countries that are doing the suppression approach -- we'll be waiting for good vaccines and good anti-virals," he said. "Much of Europe is saying we will be locked down for months, so we're all in the same boat."


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