New Zealand is a country of almost five million people. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been 1,476 infections and 19 deaths (Johns Hopkins University data). This is the lowest mortality rate in a single Western country with a developed health care system. To what or to whom do New Zealanders owe this favorable outcome? And what should the rest of the world take note of for the future?
Many experts now like to recall the story that started modern epidemiology. When a serious outbreak of cholera hit the Soho neighborhood of London in 1854, British doctor John Snow decided to focus not on treating the sick like the rest of us, but on finding the cause of the epidemic.
That cause turned out to be contaminated water in the district’s standpipe, and Snow convinced authorities to remove the pump handle so the public would stop using it.
It is not known whether this was the main cause of the epidemic’s waning, but Dr. Snow’s principle gave rise to a new branch of science, namely, the elimination of the root cause.
Point-blank and timing
New Zealand was one of the first countries to introduce a social distancing rule and mandatory quarantine for all arrivals to the country
According to virologists, in the case of any epidemic, there are two strategies that can be followed. The first is familiar and has been tried and tested many times – it is localization and mitigation. The second is a more radical and risky strategy to eliminate (eradicate) the virus.
While many countries were leaning toward the first strategy, New Zealand decided to go the elimination route, and as early as early February, authorities were urging citizens to minimize social contact as an advisory.
Then, within days, authorities introduced a four-tiered response system, in which the second tier can be tentatively called “no more three don’t gather” and the fourth involves a near-total shutdown of life in the country.
“It is a pity that humanity has not learned any lessons from the situation with the SARS epidemic. To interrupt the chain of spread of the epidemic as soon as possible, to throw all forces at it – that is what should have been done everywhere. The first thing many countries did was to figure out how to stretch the peak of infection over time and relieve the burden on hospitals. Time was lost,” says Alexander Movila, a microbiologist and professor at Nova University in Florida.
“Also, in many countries and large cities, authorities and people clung to businesses for fear of hurting the economy,” Movila adds.