We all know that it can’t last forever.
But we hope that it will and live like it will.
In case you are wondering what I’m on about, yesterday marked the one hundredth day that this nation of Aotearoa New Zealand has been free of any COVID-19 transmission. Any Internet search of this country along with a term such as COVID-19 or coronavirus brings a multitude of news items and opinion pieces about our apparent success in controlling the pandemic.
Of course a search originating in NZ will produce a result that includes many kiwi websites, and as might be expected a good many of them report on news reports and opinion pieces from overseas publication. We Kiwis have a strange affliction – we don’t like to blow our own trumpet, but we have an almost unhealthy interest in how people and the media in other nations perceive us. I confess that at times, I too am also afflicted. We like others to blow our trumpet for us.
Most of the news items were relatively accurate, but one glaring mistake frequently made was that there was a requirement to wear face masks as part of the containment measures. In fact health officials here advised against the wearing of masks as it was believed that they gave a false sense of security, needed to be properly fitted to be effective, and that people unfamiliar with wearing masks have a tendency to adjust or touch is frequently, negating much of its effectiveness.
Only in the last few days has that advice been replaced with a recommendation that we obtain reusable masks for each household member just in case there is an outbreak, and to store them with other survival gear in our earthquake kits. In fact there’s suggestions that we should introduce “mask practice days” so that we can get used to wearing masks should the need ever arise.
Elimination versus suppression
In many news items and opinion pieces, this country is compared to other nations that have also been successful in controlling the initial wave of COVID-19, but have since seen new waves just as severe or, in come cases, more severe than the first. The conclusion is that New Zealand will suffer the same fate.
What seems to be overlooked is that the strategy taken by the New Zealand authorities differed markedly from countries it’s compared with. Other nations sought to suppress the virus – bring community transmision down to a very low level. Right from the beginning, the strategy here has been to eliminate the virus – stop all community transmission.
And this has been clearly stated from the moment we learnt that the country was going into lockdown. I believe it was because the elimination strategy was so clearly communicated throughout the entire pandemic crisis that the result was indeed a “team of five million” that cooperated with a common goal in mind.
Complacency – I’m guilty
At the back of our minds I think we are all aware that at some time in the future – next week, next year, who knows when – an infected person will escape detection at the borders and infect one or more unfortunate Kiwis. Although we are repeatedly reminded that we must stay vigilant, I must admit that after 100 days it’s very easy to become complacent. I don’t think there’s any doubt that complacency is our greatest threat.
Trump’s alternate reality
According to Trump and the US Department of State, New Zealand is very dangerous to visit New Zealand and it’s necessary to take extra precautions while travelling here.
The reason? There’s 23 active cases in this country. Apparently that makes us more dangerous the the USA according to the President. What Trump, the US Department of State, and even the commentator on the video clip below, fail to understand is that those 23 cases are people who have just arrived in the country and are in mandatory managed isolation.
Effectively, new arrivals have not entered the country until they leave quarantine. All arrivals must go into isolation at a managed isolation facility for 14 days, and to have had two negative COVID-19 tests before being permitted to join the the rest of the non-masked, non-socially distanced Kiwis and attend sports events with 40,000 other fans and dance the evening away with hundreds of others in bars and nightclubs.
For the time being, you have about as much chance of being infected with COVID-19 as you have of being bitten by a snake in New Zealand. As there is no evidence of snakes ever living here, and the only ones permitted into the country are in the form of shoes or handbags, I think the odds are extremely slim.
If When the worst happens
New Zealand went into lockdown when there were only 100 known cases and no deaths. We we able to achieve elimination due to widespread testing followed by thorough track and tracing (although it was somewhat inadequate for the first few weeks). In general Kiwis have understood the necessity of the measures taken to squash the virus, and with a very clear message from the top, working as a team of five million has been relatively painless.
So long as a high level of testing is maintained (and we’ve dropped significantly over recent weeks – more complacency), any new outbreak should hopefully be contained before it gains a foothold as it has in the Australian state of Victoria.