Which makes this an interesting moment for a New Zealand update. The South Pacific country has exploited its unique wealth and isolation to try to eliminate the virus completely. Just days ago business leaders in Auckland were so sure of success that they called on the government to open new quarantine hotels to accommodate an expected flood of foreign businesses seeking refuge from “recurrent lockdowns” in their home countries.
Then Auckland locked itself down over a mere four cases of unknown origin. Why? Even a single transmission could presage defeat for the country’s costly investment in its “go hard, go early” attempt to expel the virus entirely.
The new outbreak, after 102 days in which no cases were reported, has risen to 30 infections and poses a disturbing question: Did the country ever really quash domestic spread of a disease that is often mild or symptomless? New Zealand may now find itself invoking repeated local shutdowns over mysterious eruptions. Even when a vaccine comes, vaccines are not perfect so the nation will have to accept some domestic disease or remain largely cut off from travel and tourism. New Zealand’s strategy may yet prove least-cost but the trade-offs are steeper than cheerleaders acknowledge.