Why are we happy hobbits in Jacinda’s “mysterious hermit socialist kingdom” | Max Rashbrooke
Doctor, get well. This phrase has been on my mind ever since the world media, mostly British, started mocking New Zealand’s Covid elimination strategy last week.
I am a proud UK passport holder and have spent some of my best years in London, but not once during this pandemic have I wished I was anywhere other than New Zealand. This is true even though we are now back in lockdown while the Brits freely enjoy what is happening there for a summer.
As Twitter users were quick to point out, it was indeed crazy for New Zealand to go into lockdown with just one case – no waiting, 22 – hang in there, 107… You understand. The fact that the number of coronavirus cases may increase rapidly should be evident by now, but apparently not.
Apparently, too, some British columnists believe that New Zealand has become “a mysterious socialist hermit kingdom”. But we have led infinitely freer lives over the past 18 months. On the Oxford Covid-19 austerity index, they’ve had – roughly – 60% of lives restricted for most of that time, while we have rarely exceeded 20%. We have blockages, but they’re usually short and to the point.
Blockages are also effective: We have only had 26 people who died from Covid, a number which – and I cannot stress it enough – is vastly different from the over 130,000 UK death tally today. Our death rate per person is 400 times lower than that of the UK. And if any Brits think it’s because New Zealand is an island, they might want to take a look at their own country’s shape on a map. Luck and living at the end of the world also helped us, but not that much.
It is difficult to think of the downsides of our approach. Admittedly, lockdowns aren’t good for mental health, but also probably not as bad as having to watch ‘bodies pile up’.
Our compassionate response has also been effective: New Zealand’s economy has recovered faster than Britain’s, while our unemployment rate, at 4%, is so low that companies trying to recruit staff are considering desperate measures like an increase in wages.
Yes, we can be sleeping little hobbits, less protective of our civil liberties than the British. But when crimes are proportionate to the damage they seek to prevent and governments act competently, citizens have reason to have confidence. And it’s not as if no one dares to criticize Jacinda Ardern.
In short, our response to the coronavirus has been the rarest of things, a win-win-win situation. In the “somewhat magical animals” stakes, we can brag not only about the hobbits but also about the unicorns.
As for the “hermit” line: it’s not like we want to be isolated. We organized a trans-Tasman travel bubble with Australia as soon as it seemed safe, only for Australians to screw it up. If we do not have any more, it is not for lack of efforts on our part.
Of course, our government made mistakes. Managed isolation bookings are chaotic, intensive care beds are inadequate, testing systems are far from perfect. More notoriously, our vaccine deployment is the slowest in the developed world.
But we could afford some slowness because of our previous victories. In addition, the continued deaths and resurgent infections in vaccine success stories such as Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom suggest that there are few models, unless one is willing to tolerate. a count of hundreds of people a day, tens of thousands a year. New Zealanders would be more enthusiastic about “learning to live” with Covid if it wasn’t so much like learning to die with it. We would probably also prefer not to open up to Covid with a very partially vaccinated population, a delightfully British approach that appears perfectly designed to create the next Delta variant.
Given Delta’s exceptional infection rates, of course, our latest lockdown may not work. We don’t have a monopoly on perfection, no crystal ball. But for now, that seems like the right strategy.
And of course, we need an exit plan, like everyone else, and we may have to come to terms with a few coronavirus deaths a year eventually. But that exit plan and opening up our borders will only seem achievable when global vaccination rates peak and the rest of the world is a safe place to travel.
That, in turn, doesn’t seem likely to happen until the end of this year, when New Zealand will be in the same situation as everyone else – i.e. having had anyone vaccinated who wants it. before starting a desperate battle. with anti-vaccines.
I am truly delighted that the UK has successfully rolled out its vaccine, helping to protect my many UK friends and family. But rather than laughing at others, the British would do well to contemplate their own past – and lingering – problems with a pandemic straining us all.