As nations grapple with the cost to life on the one hand and socioeconomic impacts on the other, policymakers must enact high risk strategies without precedent to combat COVID19. A prominent approach has been to initiate nationwide lockdowns and currently over a third of the global population is socially distancing and advised to remain indoors.
Lockdown logic is straightforward: limit social contact to slow the communal spread of COVID19. In most cases, the objectives of policymakers under the advice of health authorities is to contain and mitigate the spread of the virus to allow healthcare systems to cope with the enormous strains placed upon them, otherwise known as ‘flattening the curve’. Although this approach has been adopted by a significant number of countries, there is considerable variability in the extent to which social distancing and isolation is practiced.
New Zealand has adopted one of the strictest lockdown protocols currently in operation. This decision is guided by the goal of not containing but eradicating COVID19 within its territorial boundaries. A rapid response was initiated with the banning of international travel on 19 March with only 23 confirmed cases and lockdown measures were introduced on 23 March 2020 with 103 cases. These measures are expected to remain in place until either cases reduce to such a degree as to be considered eradicated or until a vaccine is discovered.
There are several factors that may enable New Zealand to effectively carry out its eradication strategy. New Zealand benefits from two inherent advantages. A low population density combined with maritime national boundaries allow for greater control of the spread of COVID19 both within communities and from overseas travel. These demographic and natural advantages have helped considerably in limiting the spread of the virus thus far.
However, as comparable cases have shown, these advantages should be accompanied with robust policies. Unlike other nations, New Zealand implemented a stringent lockdown relatively early when confirmed cases were low. In doing so, New Zealand is currently one of the few states with more recoveries than new cases. Additionally, following approaches taken in South Korea and Singapore and the advice of the WHO, New Zealand is implementing testing and contact tracing. This not only enhances healthcare interventions, but also provides an accurate picture for policy makers and health authorities to base decisions on.
Lessons and Recommendations
- Early and robust action is critical controlling the spread of COVID19 and may allow the easing lockdown restrictions within a shorter timeframe.
- Testing and contact tracing increases intelligence of pandemic dynamics, enabling faster and better responses as well as evidence-based policymaking.