Coronavirus: Kiwi journalist for The Washington Post gives glowing review of NZ's COVID-19 response

NZ PM Jacinda Ardern.
NZ PM Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty

New Zealand isn't just flattening the curve - it's squashing it, according to an acclaimed Kiwi journalist.

Canterbury and Victoria University graduate Anna Fifield, now The Washington Post's Beijing bureau chief, has praised New Zealand's rapidly implemented "elimination" approach to the COVID-19 crisis.

In a piece for The Washington Post, Fifield highlights how New Zealand's goal of eliminating the virus, rather than opting for the "containment" measures as seen in the United States and other Western countries, is already showing promise.

On Tuesday, New Zealand's daily new case number fell to its lowest in two weeks. Only 54 new confirmed and probable cases were announced. Since the beginning of the outbreak, 241 people of 1160 confirmed and probable cases have recovered.

The Ministry of Health's Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, even acknowledged the "signs are promising" during Tuesday's press conference.

Fifield also highlighted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's uncompromising approach to the Alert Level 4 lockdown, a four-week period of closures and self-isolation designed to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases, and the swift shut down of the country's borders.

"We currently have 102 cases, but so did Italy once," Ardern announced on March 23, the day she gave New Zealanders 48 hours to prepare for an unprecedented, nationwide lockdown as of 11:59pm on March 25.

For four weeks, everyone is required to stay at home except in specific circumstances. Essential businesses, such as healthcare facilities, supermarkets and pharmacies, are permitted to remain open, meaning its employees can commute to work. All other New Zealanders are to work from home, or are able to apply for a wage subsidy if their non-essential workplace has been closed. Local exercise and purchasing essential supplies is also allowed.

"From the earliest stages, Ardern and her team have spoken in simple language: Stay home. Don't have contact with anyone outside your household 'bubble'. Be kind. We're all in this together," Fifield wrote.

"She's usually done this from the podium of news conferences where she has discussed everything from the price of cauliflowers to wage subsidies. But she also regularly gives updates and answers questions on Facebook, including one done while sitting at home - possibly on her bed - in a sweatshirt.

"But there has been a sense of collective purpose... the response has been notably apolitical. The National Party has clearly made a decision not to criticise the Government's response - and in fact to help it. These efforts appear to be paying off."

On April 2, New Zealand's number of new cases peaked at 89 - 48 confirmed and 41 probable. On Monday, April 6, new cases fell to 67 - reaching its lowest in two weeks on Tuesday with 54 cases on the country's 13th full day in lockdown.

According to the latest figures, 42 percent of the country's 1160 cases are linked to international travel, while 41 percent are contacts of known cases. There remains little evidence of community transmission, sitting at just 2 percent, contributing to the low hospitalisation rate. Only 13 people are currently in hospital nationwide - three of which are in the ICU.

Only one person who tested positive for the coronavirus has died. A West Coast woman in her 70s died on March 29 after being initially diagnosed with influenza. The woman had an underlying health condition.

"Jacinda approached this decisively and unequivocally and faced the threat," Michael Baker, a professor of public health at the University of Otago and one of the country's leading epidemiologists, told Fifield.

"Other countries have had a gradual ramp-up, but our approach is exactly the opposite."