New Zealand in the Global Pandemic: Exceptionalism or Luck

As we head into Christmas it is time for a brief reflection on the year. At the time of writing we are Covid-free in New Zealand. While new strains break out in the Northern hemisphere, we remain without community transmission. And as long as the border controls hold, and homecoming passengers stay in quarantine and don’t spread the virus, we can carry on with Christmas celebrations as normal. Lucky us.

So is it just luck? Does being the exception in the world over the last six months result largely from being an island nation a long way from the disease hot spots. And does that make us exceptional, at least in terms of our policy response, and the fact that the political leaders decided to go for an elimination strategy, with a total lockdown in March. There may have been elements of luck, especially when the virus got out of the quarantine area in Auckland, in late winter, and some carriers infected family members in the central North Island. That minor outbreak was contained effectively.

As we continue to watch the chaos in other countries, particularly in the English speaking world, it might feel like we are the exception, if not exceptional. Certainly, when we held an election, with no community Covid, and a very high turnout, there was an exceptional result for Jacinda Ardern. But people voted for the status quo. In other contries millions have still voted for right wing populists who have downplayed or even denied the Covid crisis, and continued to pursue their own agendas. The sight of foreign trucks queued up at Dover, in south east England, should be proof of the folly of Brexit, but still the English nationalists pursue it, despite the circumstances.

It is frankly hard to fathom what is going on in most countries in the northern hemisphere. They don’t even seem to be able to prevent their own leaders from contracting Covid 19. And then when they get the disease, and are to recover and carry on, nothing really changes. Is the policy response the same because they are ideologues, or that they don’t care about the death toll, and the damage to the health of survivors. What appears to be a fiasco in Britain, and the USA, hasn’t caused the social chaos that should have been the obvious consequence of letting the disease rip into urban areas.

Now the northern hemisphere relies on the rushed vaccine programme to create herd immunity, even as the virus mutates, and gets more virulent. How long can even more lives be lost to otherwise treatable disease. Here in New Zealand there will be ‘normal’ gatherings of family, sporting events, and even musical concerts and festivals. We can enjoy it for now, but until the global north gets on top of the Coronavirus we are not safe either, even when the vaccines are rolled out next year, assuming they arrive in bulk.

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