New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, was giving an update to her country yesterday about their progress in conquering Covid 19 and getting back to some state of normalcy.
The country has, so far, reported 1,487 cases, and just 20 deaths, and is considering re-opening for business as usual, and even relaxing restrictions on international travel on a limited basis, with something called a “trans-tasman bubble”, but more on that in a moment.
New Zealand can do all of this, she says, because of how well they’ve coped with the crisis. Not like some other countries, specifically, Ireland:
New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern: “I was just looking at Ireland. Their stepping down is taking them through July before some people are back in work. Because we’ve been able to contain as we have, if we do it right, we’ll be back in quick step in getting the economy moving again.” pic.twitter.com/hrolRjUaDf
— Fintan Walsh (@FintanYTWalsh) May 4, 2020
To be fair, there are several reasons why Ireland was always going to have a more difficult time of it than New Zealand. Although our two countries are very similar in myriad ways, there are also important differences. New Zealand, for example, does not have any neighbours, unless you count Australia, which is 2,500 kilometres away. To put that in perspective, 2,500 kilometres from Ireland gets you to Chernobyl in the east, Morocco in the South, and Greenland in the west. Most of us on this side of the world don’t realise just how far away from Australia New Zealand is, but it’s a long, long way.
When you are that isolated, you get a lot less casual travel through your ports, and international isolation becomes a lot easier. It’s not surprising that New Zealand didn’t get the same initial dose of Coronavirus that Ireland got.
Second, New Zealand isn’t a member of the European Union, or any comparable body, which enforces free movement of people. It was able to close its borders almost on day one, whereas Ireland, famously, either could not or would not, and still hasn’t.
In New Zealand, schools re-opened last week, and yesterday, the country reported zero new cases:
Monday also marked no new coronavirus cases in New Zealand for the first time since lockdown measures were put in place, a promising sign that the country’s actions have stemmed the spread of the virus within its borders. In contrast, Australia reported 26 new cases on Monday, the country’s biggest jump in two weeks.
Last week, New Zealand lowered its lockdown level from a four to a three, allowing schools and certain businesses to begin to reopen. Some Australian states, including New South Wales and Queensland, have also begun to relax their restrictions this week, and Morrison said last week that pubs may reopen if enough people download the government’s coronavirus tracing app.
Australia and New Zealand do benefit, as noted above, from their relative geographic isolation. But is that the only reason for their relative success compared to Ireland and other European countries? It’s obviously a factor, but it’s not obviously the only factor. Indisputably, lockdown measures were quicker and faster in both countries compared to Ireland and most European countries.
But also, notably, both countries have engaged in a practice that has been widely used in Asia, and in fact, almost everywhere except Europe: Fever Screening. This is from the Australian health ministry:
The Australian Government has announced that residential aged care facilities should take extra precautions to keep residents safe from COVID-19. Both individuals and management need to take responsibility for the health of visitors and staff at facilities to protect our most vulnerable community members.
Aged care facilities will:
closely monitor the health of staff, including fever screening, where appropriate
screen new and returning residents before entry
put up signs and explain the steps they are taking to protect residents’ health
Staff should be made aware of early signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Any staff with fever or symptoms of acute respiratory infection (e.g. cough, sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath) should be excluded from the workplace and tested for COVID-19. Staff must report their symptoms to the residential aged care facility.
Basically, instead of testing for Coronavirus, they’ve been checking people for having a temperature. Since having a temperature is the first, and most common symptom of Coronavirus, and since checking for a temperature is much faster, and cheaper, than testing for Coronavirus, they’ve been doing that as a general precaution. If you’ve got a temperature, you’re not going anywhere near vulnerable people.
One of the big questions to be asked in Europe is why this wasn’t employed, and wasn’t universally used. Instead of checking people for temperatures in Ireland, we told nursing homes to open their doors.
Ireland has over 1000 nursing home deaths. Australia, with six times our population, has 95 deaths in total.
It’s not just about geography, folks.