Libre: Beating Covid-19

Mel Libre

ON JUNE 9, 2020, New Zealand returned to normal as its prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced the previous day that it had won its fight against Covid-19, as the last infected individual had recovered and no new cases reported. The final tally: 1,504 cases and 22 deaths. The government’s call to action was “Unite against Covid-19” with a four-level alert level system introduced on March 21.

I’ve lived in New Zealand since 2005 and have experienced how its citizens unite when so demanded, whether in sporting events or tragic ones such as the Christchurch earthquakes and mosque shootings. The national unity was once again demonstrated.

Let me list down some of the factors that I believe contributed to the success of the Kiwis against the pandemic:

Effective communication. Ardern and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield were articulate as they spoke in a media conference nearly every day on health updates, policy announcements and government directives. Transparency was the key; thus, public trust was established. Ardern was the mother of the nation, with Bloomfield as the nation’s family doctor.

Clear-cut guidelines. Prior to implementing an alert level, Ardern would announce a few days earlier the guidelines. No legalese. Simple and direct language for every one to understand.

Strict implementation. On one occasion, Minister of Health David Clark was seen biking farther away from his home during lockdown. Ardern publicly scolded Clark and demoted him in ranking. He apologized. There were a few violators who were caught by the police who gave warnings. Repetitive offenders were charged.

Testing and contract tracing. When an individual was identified to be Covid-19 positive; health authorities immediately went into action to identify those who came in contact with the person and directed them to self-isolate. Clusters were identified and closely monitored. The country conducted 300 tests from Jan. 22 until March 8 and from there on, the number increased, totalling 301,882 as of June 11.

Financial assistance. Parliament adopted financial assistance packages to allow individuals to live decently and for businesses to stay afloat during the lockdown.

No politics. Even though the parliamentary election is set later this year, the Opposition National Party supported the programs of the ruling Labour Party. The Epidemic Response Committee that scrutinized the government’s response to Covid-19 was chaired by the opposition leader.

Community support. The citizenry embraced the initial call of Ardern, “We must go hard and we must go early.” We soldiered on as the fight toughened. We did not let our guard down. We took the fight seriously. And yes, we won.