OPINION: Dear Mike, New Zealand didn't overreact to the coronavirus pandemic - we saved thousands of lives

Mike Hosking says New Zealand overreacted to the coronavirus pandemic, despite thousands of lives being saved.
Mike Hosking says New Zealand overreacted to the coronavirus pandemic, despite thousands of lives being saved. Photo credit: Getty Images

OPINION: I have a Japanese import car that can only pick up certain radio stations, Newstalk ZB being one of them. So if I want some news on the radio in the morning I listen to the Mike Hosking Breakfast. 

I like listening to Mike, it gets me psyched up for the day, a bit like a sportsman hitting his head against his locker before a game. 

Entering Mike's world, where if you agree with him then you are great, if not you are a member of the hand-wringing, PC brigade, makes me want to be a better person. To go out and do good in the world. 

Now I am in lockdown and not commuting, I haven't listened to him for a while, but I read his Mike's Minute this morning and it reminded me of a Winston Churchill quote. 

"The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes." 

It was the piece saying Jacinda Ardern overreacted to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic to New Zealand. 

One of the arguments put forward so very eloquently by Mike, referring to the Prime Minister's speech on Thursday outlining what a move to level 3 lockdown might look like, was: 

"She defended the potential charge of overreaction: 'We don't want to confuse reaction with overreaction,' Mike said.

"I say she said that because that's exactly what she did do - she overreacted. The 1000 hospital beds empty are proof of that, the ICU units that have barely been bothered are proof of that. The economic carnage is proof of that."

I think Mike is right, but not in the way he thinks he is. 

Surely the 1000 empty hospital beds and unused ICU units are proof the strategy of going into a strict lockdown worked. 

There is an argument it was too harsh - who wouldn't have liked to order UberEats during the lockdown - but it was effective in a number of areas: 

  • New Zealand flattened its curve very quickly
  • Our health system wasn't overwhelmed
  • The coronavirus is largely contained here 
  • Our fatality rate while tragic is low compared to other countries
  • There is a chance we could, at least for the time being, eliminate COVID-19 from our shores 

Mike then compared the reaction in New Zealand to the reaction in Australia, where they effectively only went into level 3, but have had similar results. 

"And that's before you get to Australia, who have been doing what we are about to do ever since they locked their country down.

"As for level three, you can get takeaways, you can build a building, and you can attend a funeral."

Mike is not alone in his criticism of the Government supposedly overreacting to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Dr Simon Thornley, a senior epidemiology lecturer at the University of Auckland, says the alert level 4 response to COVID-19 has proven to be "an overreaction", and can now be scaled back.

Dr Thornley is a member of the group of public health experts who have in recent days voiced disapproval of the New Zealand Government's handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We believe the lockdown is an overreaction, [as] most working people and children are at very low risk of any harm from the virus," Dr Thornley told Peter Williams on Magic Talk.

"We believe we should pay attention to protecting people in nursing homes and the elderly, and reducing the risk of disease spread in hospitals - but for the rest of us, we believe we can go back to work, school and university."

Thornley also looked across the ditch to the Australian model, saying Aussies had done well through the pandemic and their infected numbers were dropping. 

Thornley's argument does seem to ignore the many thousands of healthy people who have died across the globe, including front line workers such as doctors and nurses who died treating patients. 

You cannot open an international website at the moment without seeing a tragic story of a victim of COVID-19. It is a big call saying we can go back to work, school and university. 

The comparison to Australia is fair enough, but you can't compare New Zealand's response to just one other country. 

New Zealand's response was so much more effective than many, many other countries around the world. Countries who have since had longer lockdown periods, higher infection rates and far worse fatalities. 

If you look around the world then you could argue Australia and New Zealand got it right, while many others got theirs wrong? Shouldn't we be lauding that? 

Both China, where coronavirus originated, and the US have been criticised for reacting too slowly. In the UK a recent poll showed two-thirds of those polled thought the Government acted too slowly. Those countries are among the worst affected by COVID-19. 

The UK has allowed businesses such as restaurants to operate a take-out only service, but there are still dire warnings for the British economy. 

Australia will too have a hard landing.  

There is an argument that the situation could be better, but there is no doubt it could be a lot worse. Instead of picking fault in New Zealand's response, why don't we praise it as one of the best in the world?

Mark Longley is the managing editor of Newshub Digital