New Zealand and Australia's governments have attracted global praise for their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet while the countries reign in their respective outbreaks, they continue to grapple with their floundering economies - a casualty exacerbated by responses that did too little, too late, according to Australian correspondent Jason Morrison.
The radio broadcaster says Australia's economy has been "destroyed" almost irreparably by the Commonwealth government's response to the COVID-19 crisis, despite Australia's measures being less stringent than those observed under New Zealand's alert level 4 lockdown.
Businesses are still widely permitted to remain open if they comply with social distancing protocol, with many eateries operating on a takeaway basis. Activities that involve frequent human-to-human encounters - such as gyms and cinemas - are limited. State borders are shut, but Australians have greater freedom of movement inside regions or suburbs. In South Australia, gatherings of up to 10 people are still permitted and residents are not required to remain at home whereas in New Zealand, any excursion must be for an essential reason.
Last week, Australia's national cabinet agreed to begin easing its restrictions in four weeks time. Yet also last week, Otago University professor and epidemiologist David Skegg told the Epidemic Response Committee that while New Zealand's lockdown could be lifted following the initial four-week period, Australia's could last up to 18 months. New Zealand has implemented an "elimination" strategy by closing all non-essential businesses, while Australia has opted for a "suppression" approach that has allowed huge industries, such as construction, to remain operational. Although this approach may mean Australia sustains less of an economic hit, if outbreaks were to worsen, major industries could still be shut down - prolonging an extended fight against the virus with major economic ramifications.
Opposition leader Simon Bridges has highlighted the disparity in trans-Tasman restrictions, arguing that Australia appears to be achieving similar success in flattening its curve with less of an impact on its people, businesses and economy. Both countries are seeing similar case numbers on a per-capita basis, and based on these comparisons, Bridges has called for New Zealand to move to the less restrictive alert level 3. His comments were echoed by a group of six academics, who launched a campaign to lift the Government's "overreaction" of a lockdown early and get New Zealand back in business.
But Morrison, a columnist and radio presenter, claimed to The AM Show that despite the support for Australia's approach, the country is "enormously in debt". He says it's "hard to [compare] apples with apples" when it comes to Australia and New Zealand's economic impacts.
"Our economy has been destroyed, your economy is being destroyed, our civil liberties have been stripped away," Morrison told The AM Show host Duncan Garner.
"Both of our economies will take ages to get back from this. I'll never see [Australia] not in debt - I doubt my children will. The only way back from this is to be damaging to business and enterprise in order to tax the backside off it to rebuild some of the damage we've caused. Tell me how that's a positive.
"In Australia, I would appreciate it if the government would stop taking money off of us while this crap is going on. We have a process of taxation where you have to pay regularly to the government... there are businesses closing with bank accounts full of money that they have to pay to the government. You're going broke while having an account chocca with cash that you could be paying your staff and staying alive with - but they're [taking] the money and [putting] it into the coffers that look at the process of not taking it away in the first place."
'Flip a coin' to say who is doing it better
Morrison says it's hard to compare New Zealand and Australia's responses to the pandemic as both government's failed to act with the urgency often being demanded of them.
"Both governments failed when they needed to act, then they acted and they acted so dramatically, when the horse had [already] bolted - so we're splitting hairs here," he said.
New Zealand has been hailed for its rapid implementation of stringent yet effective initiatives, guided by a compassionate Prime Minister and the crystal-clear communication of the unflappable Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Yet there have also been hesitations and mistakes, with a shaky start to initial border controls, concerns over our capability to contact trace and our very own Health Minister disregarding lockdown protocol.
"We've got this sense from the government that they want to be congratulated for doing, well - what they could have prevented. We're saying 'well done' for doing what you had to do because you failed to do what you should have done, back when it all started. That's sort of the problem," Morrison said.
Morrison highlighted Australia's hesitancy to close its borders as an example of public calls for action being ignored. Despite Australia recording its first case of the virus on January 25, borders were not closed to overseas visitors until March 21 - two days after the closure of New Zealand's borders on March 19, which came less than three weeks after the first case announcement on February 28. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed the delay was guided by "medical expert advice".
"It was a month and a half ago where suggestions of closing the borders were considered... The craziness of all of this is being upset about causing some short-term pain to a small group of people from a corner of the planet, yet here we are having no hesitation [in] causing a huge damage to decent, normal and average people's lives," he claimed. "I always find it quite amazing with the government how easy it is to overreact for the mass[es]... they failed us in that opportunity, both sides of the Tasman.
"I guess it's easy to be a smartypants on television and radio... but I think we all know it, we all know they should have done it and it's pretty unforgivable that both sides didn't."
Just nine new cases of COVID-19 were announced in New Zealand on Sunday, bringing the country's overall total of confirmed and probable cases to 1431. The death of a man in Invercargill was confirmed to be linked to the virus following a post-mortem, bringing the death toll to 12.
New cases in New Zealand have dropped dramatically over the past week and a half, the country reaching its highest daily total - 89 - on April 5, followed by a swift decline a few days later. The majority of deaths have been linked to a cluster at the Rosewood Rest Home in Christchurch.
In Australia, which has a population of close to 25 million compared to New Zealand's nearly 4.9 million, there have been roughly 6540 recorded cases and 67 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University's live global case tracker.