WELLINGTON, New Zealand — After reducing its coronavirus cases to zero in seven weeks — it just had its second consecutive day of no new cases — New Zealand is carefully getting back to business and even making some travel plans.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won global praise for making the decision in late March to shut down the island nation of 5 million for more than a month, when New Zealand had only had a handful of coronavirus cases. Her government also introduced measures to protect the country’s economy, including subsidies to businesses, helping keep 1.6 million workers employed. So far New Zealand’s had 1,137 COVID-19 cases and 20 deaths.
“I think the critical success factors in New Zealand were good science and great leadership working together, and you can't succeed if you have one without the other,” professor Michael Baker, one of New Zealand’s top public health experts, told VICE News.
“There was huge Western arrogance about how we responded to this infection, almost some strange sense of exceptionalism that it wouldn't do in our countries what it had done in Asia. And the virus had other ideas,” he said.
With international travel looking uncertain for many months, the New Zealand government is exploring forming a travel bubble with neighbors Australia and the Pacific Islands, as it gradually reduces lockdown measures.
“If we can get ourselves to a point where we believe we've eliminated it… where we believe that by and large it's not in our communities, we would like to work toward having some kind of arrangement with Australia and potentially to the Pacific islands to be able to see movement of people,” said finance minister Grant Robertson.