Coronavirus: New Zealand stands alone as only major economy without community transmission of COVID-19

New Zealand has regained its number one spot as the best place in the world to be during the COVID-19 era.

Bloomberg's COVID Resilience Ranking looks at how major countries around the world are handling the pandemic, taking into account social and economic disruption, mortality and infection rates, freedom of movement and how the vaccine rollout is going.

Despite the tardy start to our rollout - upheld by the switch to a single supplier, and global demand - New Zealand is back on top, following outbreaks in other countries that until now, were doing just as well. 

"Lauded for its handling of the pathogen, the Asia-Pacific region accounted for all seven of the biggest declines this month in the measure of the best and worst places to be in the pandemic," Bloomberg's Jinshan Hong, Rachel Chang and Kevin Varley wrote. 

"Taiwan and Japan dropped out of the top 10 amid sluggish inoculation drives and resurgent cases, while some of the world's fiercest outbreaks held down places in southeast and south Asia."

The Bloomberg COVID Resilience Ranking, as of late May 2021.
The Bloomberg COVID Resilience Ranking, as of late May 2021. Photo credit: Bloomberg

New Zealand scores 80.8 on the Covid Resilience Ranking, followed by Singapore's 79.4, Australia's 79.1, Israel's 75.4. South Korea and Finland are tied for fifth on 73.8, followed by Norway, Denmark, China and Hong Kong. 

European nations like France, Czechia, Austria, the UK and Poland are the biggest gainers, while Singapore dropped to second after bringing back restrictions and closing a travel bubble due to dozens of untraceable cases in recent weeks. 

Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia all had double-digit tumbles down the leaderboard.

"The reversal of fortunes reflects the game-changing impact of vaccination, especially rollouts of the breakthrough mRNA shots that not only prevent serious disease and death but appear to quell the virus' spread," Bloomberg said. 

So does this leave New Zealand the last COVID-free place on Earth? Not at all. A number of smaller countries have reported no cases at all, all of them in the Pacific - such as Tuvalu, Tonga, Tokelau, Palau, Niue, Nauru, Kiribati and the Cook Islands. 

Two large countries have also reported zero cases to date, but both - Turkmenistan and North Korea - are authoritarian dictatorships, so their claims aren't taken seriously. 

But of the world's major economies, New Zealand now stands alone. 

Our last community case was recorded on February 28 - three months ago. We've had past community outbreaks, but have managed to wipe them out each time using the alert level system. Only once has there been a nationwide level 4 lockdown - at the start of the pandemic - and outbreaks since have been successfully handled using regional level 3 restrictions

Bloomberg's COVID Resilience Ranking tracks the world's top 53 economies, each with a GDP of more than US$200 billion - New Zealand just scraping in. 

Of those 53 countries, New Zealand is the only one with a rolling seven-day average in the single digits. Even China, whose government was able to flex its authoritarian muscles and halt out the initial outbreak and subsequent waves in August and January, is recording about 110 new cases a week, including transmission in the community.

Hong Kong comes closest to New Zealand, having recorded no new cases for the first time in seven months on Thursday - but a government adviser told the South China Morning Post not to read too much into it, because a single day's figure didn't tell the full story.  

Australia, ranked third by Bloomberg, has put the state of Victoria into lockdown after a few dozen community cases were picked up in Victoria.  

Taiwan, whose response has been held up as a model for New Zealand to follow by opposition politicians, has unravelled in recent weeks - going from two or three cases a day as recently as April to several hundred. 

Before May, the biggest outbreak Vietnam had was in February, when it recorded a few dozen a day - after getting the rate back near zero in March, it's since exploded to over 100. Thailand's a similar story, but on an even more tragic scale - going from a few dozen per day in February to several thousand. 

Malaysia almost entirely avoided the initial outbreak, and looked to be fighting off the surge over summer - but its growth in cases is now exponential, averaging nearly 7000 a day and rising. 

Since the start of the pandemic, just three countries in Bloomberg's index have had fewer COVID-19 deaths per capita than New Zealand - Vietnam leading the way, followed by Taiwan and China. Whether that remains the case remains to be seen. 

New Zealand ranks 38th for its vaccine rollout, leaving us "potentially vulnerable to the same dynamic that’s knocked other stars of virus containment" Bloomberg warned.