Since we took a look this weekend at the seeming success of Sweden’s herd immunity strategy in combatting the pandemic, this may be an apt time to look at what’s going on in a nation that employed the complete opposite strategy. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, locked down her nation like a maximum-security prison before the novel coronavirus could establish much of a toehold on their islands. And she kept them locked down until there were no more cases to be found. She also closed the borders almost entirely, forcing anyone arriving in the country to go into a mandatory, supervised quarantine for two weeks.
But as we learned recently, somebody slipped up somewhere and a new batch of cases emerged in Auckland. So the lockdown was put back in place. Now, for the second time, the coast appears to be clear and the restrictions are being partially lifted everywhere except in that city. (Associated Press)
All remaining virus restrictions will be lifted across much of New Zealand from late Monday with the exception of the largest city, Auckland, which will continue to have some restrictions for at least another 16 days. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement Monday after meeting with top lawmakers. The nation of 5 million re-imposed some restrictions last month after an Auckland outbreak which now appears to be under control. Under the plan, maximum gathering sizes in Auckland will be increased from 10 to 100 on Wednesday and then caps removed two weeks after that. “Auckland needs more time,” Ardern told reporters in the city. “Whilst we have reasonable confidence we are on the right track, there is still a need in Auckland for that cautious approach.” Health authorities reported no new cases on Monday. The number of active cases is 62, with 33 from community spread and 29 among quarantined returning travelers.
The outbreak took place at a meatpacking plant, but they’ve apparently isolated everyone who was infected or came in contact with the infected individuals. So now Ardern is once again lifting the oppressive restrictions everywhere except in Auckland. That sounds great, but you need to consider the fact that Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand. The entire country only has five million citizens and almost 1.7 million of them live there. That’s more than 30 percent of their total population that’s still going to be locked down for another two weeks or more.
While I don’t want to keep beating a dead horse here, how many times can Ardern keep doing this before her country’s economy is too battered to make a comeback? New Zealand has essentially zero herd immunity, as opposed to a place like Sweden where the majority of the country seems to have already fought off the virus and lived to tell the tale. This virus isn’t going away, even if a proven vaccine becomes available by the end of the year. It’s going to be out there in perpetuity, and there’s always going to be somebody who slips through the cracks and shows up on New Zealand’s shores. She can’t turn her country into a hermit kingdom forever.
The more we see of these dueling examples of how to deal with the pandemic, the more inclined I am to think that there was a hybrid solution staring us in the face this entire time. I realize that many of you have been saying this for ages now, but with all the weirdness associated with this disease in terms of transmission rates. lethality and all the rest, I think we needed to see some real-world examples play out before we could be 100% positive. Allow for isolation, masks and social distancing for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems or underlying respiratory problems. Screen every living soul that wants to walk into a nursing home or any similar medical facility. Pass a relief bill providing financial assistance and other support to those who fall into the at-risk category.
But for the rest of the country? Turn them loose and turn the damn economy back on. Just keep the hospitals well stocked and on their toes, ready for the comparatively rare cases where a younger, healthier person gets hit with a particularly severe case. Am I missing something here, or would that really make a lot of sense? If so, we could have already pulled out of this nosedive months ago if we’d adopted an approach like that. And I say this as one of the people in the at-risk category who would still be stuck in lockdown anyway. I’d be fine with it, personally.