The US should follow New Zealand’s lead for dealing with the pandemic

Yesterday brought some encouraging news of a survey that shows that most Americans do not believe Trump’s assertions that the US is doing a better job of dealing with the pandemic than other countries, and they are looking for the government to issue aggressive national plan to fight the epidemic and are willing to wear masks and accept other restrictions.

Two-thirds of respondents said they believe the U.S. is handling the pandemic worse than other countries, and most want the federal government to take extensive action to slow the spread of the coronavirus, favoring a top-down approach to reopening schools and businesses.

While debates over masks and whether to reopen have dominated headlines, more than three-quarters of respondents support enacting state laws to require mask wearing in public at all times. And nearly 60% said they would support a nationwide order making it mandatory to shelter at home for two weeks.

Even some conservatives who plan to vote for Trump say the federal government should do more.

Other measures that enjoy broad backing include government funding to expand testing for the coronavirus and make it free of charge, making any future vaccine available to all Americans, and a push to produce more personal protective equipment.

On the question of schools, 66% of Americans say they prefer remote, distance learning for children in their area in the fall, a view shared overwhelmingly by Democrats. Republicans are more divided, with nearly 60% agreeing with Trump that schools should reopen and kids should return to classrooms.

As Washington is deadlocked on aspects of a federal relief package, most people polled – roughly two-thirds – say the federal government should take on more debt to pass a bill that provides a payment for all Americans. A similar number want federal unemployment benefits extended.

So what we are seeing is a failure in leadership by Trump that cannot be blamed entirely on a recalcitrant public. Trump has failed to gauge the national mood and his decision to base his actions on what he perceives will work to his political advantage is backfiring. While there are disturbing signs of a resurgence of the covid-19 virus around the world, even in those countries that seemed to have gained some control over it, one country where the situation seems to be stable is New Zealand where their prime minister Jacinda Ardern imposed a harsh crackdown right from the beginning even when there were few cases. As a result, life is largely back to normal there, though the government is still keeping a close watch.

It is approaching 100 days since the last “mystery” case of the coronavirus – meaning an infection transmitted locally from an unknown source – was diagnosed in New Zealand, and apart from strict border measures life has been back to normal since early June, following one of the world’s strictest lockdowns beginning in late March. There are 27 confirmed cases of the virus in the country, all of them confined in quarantine facilities, and 22 people have died since the pandemic began.

While being an island nation undoubtedly helped, Australia also had that advantage but could not achieve the same result. At one point it seemed like Australia had also brought it under control, raising hopes that the two nations could form a bubble with free travel between them. But there has been a resurgence in neighboring Australia, especially in the state of Victoria where Melbourne is, putting paid to that plan.

In late March, Ardern announced a national shutdown of the country when New Zealand had only recorded just over 200 cases of Covid-19. Unlike in Victoria, even takeaway food and visits to intimate partners were off-limits – measures her detractors said were too high a price to pay. Opposition MPs decried their inability to purchase coffees and haircuts as Australians could.

But the situation in Australia was also a wakeup call for New Zealand, epidemiologists said. For Kiwis, all restrictions have lifted on everyday life, and the country’s virus-free status is entirely reliant on strict border controls for returning travellers – an area where Victoria has been plagued by mistakes.

New Zealand’s lockdown rules had been so strict and so clearly communicated that rule-breaking had been easily apparent, he added, urging the leaders of Victoria and New South Wales to “give limited opportunity” for the virus to spread – which should include barring delivery meals, which were banned during New Zealand’s lockdown.

It should be borne in mind that there are those in New Zealand who back in May were challenging Ardern’s power to enforce the pandemic restrictions. I am not sure if those challenges are still being litigated there or, given that New Zealand has so far been spared the second wave of infections that is hitting other countries, those people have decided to drop their campaign.

Part of the problem in Victoria seems to be that some Australians are taking a cue from some in the US and declaring themselves to be ‘sovereign citizens’ to whom the nation’s laws do not apply and are willfully defying them with regard to the pandemic restrictions such as mask wearing.

Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said Victoria Police had seen an “emergence” of “concerning groups of people who classify themselves as ‘sovereign citizens'”.

The sovereign citizen movement – which has roots in the US – is typically used by those who don’t believe in their government’s legitimacy, often arguing their rights are being suppressed by public orders.

Mr Patton said the policewoman had been attacked in a shopping centre after stopping a woman for not wearing a mask.

“After a confrontation and being assaulted by that woman, those police officers went to ground and there was a scuffle,” he said.

“And during that scuffle, this 38-year-old woman smashed the head of the policewoman several times into a concrete area on the ground.”

Since masks became compulsory about two weeks ago, there have been other prominent incidents involving “anti-maskers” and others questioning the legality of lockdown.

Widely shared videos include two women loudly defending not wearing a mask inside a hardware shop, and one woman deceiving police at a state border checkpoint.

It beats me why these people think that this is the issue they want to fight the idea of sovereign citizenry on. Is it because it is so easy to show defiance? If there is one area in which the US is clearly #1, it is in its ability to spread idiocy all over the world.

It seems like the lesson is that elimination of the virus should be the goal and a very severe lockdown for a short period, however onerous it may be, is what works and the more casual, patchwork, and chaotic restrictions policies of the US have failed.


  1. Deepak Shetty says

    1/3 of (polled) Americans look at 150,000 dead and say look at what a great job we are doing. Im surprised though that there seems to be so few human touch stories about families that have suffered losses. The number has become an abstract thing now and I dont know how we could get through to this 1/3 that something has to be done.

  2. enkidu says

    Mano, there are a number of reasons why the US cannot follow New Zealand’s path.

    We are a relatively small island nation, with a unitary government, and a single legislative/executive body; unlike the multiple jurisdictions and divided authourities of the US. We can lock down the country overnight.

    We have a functioning and (gasp) largely socialised health system, so nobody fears financial ruin from a visit to hospital.

    Culturally we are, not more homogenous exactly, but have a greater sense of social solidarity. Though not so true nowadays, this sense is derived from a time where we saw ourselves as beleaguered and very much at the “bottom” of the world, (often left off world maps, or covered by an advertisement), while the US tends to believe the world revolves around itself.

    Additionally, I believe we were extremely lucky, given the amount of traveling we do, that we were not overwhelmed by infected returnees. Perhaps the fact that the pandemic started in our summer, when we travel less, had something to do with it.

    I could go on but I think you will get the idea.

    Final note. There are ongoing challenges to the legality of the lock down orders (I think it is currently at the Court of Appeal), but there is not likely to any consequences beyond legislation to clarify the relevant powers.

  3. Mano Singham says


    I get your point but apart from the fact that NZ is an island, all the other factors are not unchangeable. The issue is for the US to recognize its shortcomings and fix them.

    Of course, given the feeling here that we are the best at everything, those changes are major.

  4. jrkrideau says

    there are disturbing signs of a resurgence of the covid-19 virus around the world

    I was just looking at El País and they are reporting 11178 new cases in a 24 hour period. I think they started relaxing too soon and too broadly.

    We still seem to be holding fairly well both provincially and nationally but we could get a jump in cases any time. Locally no new cases in the last 2 or 3 days and only one active case so I am keeping my fingers crossed.

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