Coronavirus: Immigration New Zealand's website inundated with Americans amid COVID-19 pandemic

More than a quarter of a million Americans have considered moving to New Zealand since the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus found a firm foothold in the United States this year.

As the pandemic continues to claim lives across the globe, hundreds of thousands of foreigners are applying for residency or investigating whether they qualify to immigrate to New Zealand - a country that has gone almost three months without a case being acquired locally from an unknown source. 

Meanwhile, the US is grappling to control its ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The country's virus-related death toll has surpassed 150,000, and nearly 4.5 million Americans have tested positive for the disease. 

Speaking to NZME, a Kiwi demographics expert says the increase in interest from US citizens reflects a lack of belief in the country's public health system and the failure of its leaders to guide Americans out of the pandemic. 

"Middle class, professional America is saying, 'Well, where do we go for our own safety and the safety of our families?'" Massey University's Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley told NZME.

New Zealand currently has just 23 active cases of the virus, all of which were detected due to routine testing in managed isolation and quarantine facilities. Only New Zealand citizens or permanent residents are permitted to enter the country under stringent protocols. All returned New Zealanders must complete the mandatory 14-day isolation period and return two negative test results before they are able to leave one of the 32 facilities nationwide. The country's death toll remains at 22.

As reported by NZME, 112,800 more Americans visited Immigration New Zealand's website last month compared to the same time last year - a 160 percent increase - or a US user clicking on the site every 30 seconds.

The influx of visits to Immigration NZ's website began in April, according to NZME, coinciding with the tail-end of the country's nationwide lockdown and the move to alert level 3 of the Government's COVID-19 response framework. 

Last month 46,800 British citizens visited the site, up by 19,700 a year earlier. The UK currently has the third-highest death toll worldwide - 46,046 - behind the US and Brazil, with more than 303,000 recorded cases.

The rise in interest corresponds with an international surge in Google searches using the key words, 'move to New Zealand', in June. 

Spoonley noted that a major factor pushing Americans to emigrate from the US is the Us government's "inability to handle a public health challenge", combined with civil unrest. Conversely, New Zealand presents the allure of a "calm, well-ordered" country that has been hailed internationally for its handling of the virus. 

In the past two months nearly 10,000 people have been granted applications to move to New Zealand from around the world, according to Immigration NZ data.

While people are able to apply for a visa, the border remains closed to foreigners, excluding those granted exceptions.

US President Donald Trump has received international condemnation for his response to the pandemic, including his initial refusal to accept the dangers posed  by the virus; his dismissal of masks despite the recommendations of his administration's own public health experts; suggesting ingesting disinfectant as a possible treatment; and his active promotion that the antimalarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, could possibly be a miracle cure