Coronavirus: CNN praises Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand COVID-19 response

US news giant CNN continues to pile praise on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and New Zealand's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying Aotearoa is setting an "ambitious goal".

Kiwis are in their third week of the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, implemented in an attempt to limit people's potential exposure to the SARs-COV-2 virus that has ravaged the globe and lead to nearly 100,000 deaths. 

There's some initial evidence that the lockdown has safeguarded Kiwis from the devastation many other countries have witnessed. Only 29 cases were recorded on Thursday, the lowest since the lockdown began and far below the peak of 89. Overall, there have been 1239 cases here, with only a single death.

Authorities don't want people to become complacent, but Ardern has said she is cautiously optimistic the country is turning a corner. That looks especially true when considering Ardern revealed on Thursday that modelling presented to the Government before the lockdown began showed New Zealand on a similar trajectory to the likes of Italy and Spain.

"Our 205 cases on March 25 could have grown to over 10,000 by now without the actions we have taken together," she said.

During a segment with the banner "Lessons in leadership: New Zealand's virus response", CNN's senior international correspondent Ivan Watson said New Zealand is "setting a very ambitious goal, trying to eliminate the disease completely from its shores". He called border closures introduced in mid-March a "dramatic move for an island nation whose economy depends on tourism".

Watson, though, highlighted that some Kiwis have breached the lockdown violations, including the "most egregious case" being Health Minister Dr David Clark. 

He said it was too early to see if New Zealand's strategy would succeed but "there may be some lessons here for other countries grappling with coronavirus" in terms of fast contact tracing and enforcing isolation. Watson also made mention of the mandatory quarantining Ardern announced on Thursday.

"The country is not letting up. It is just getting more strict with this ultimate, ambitious goal of trying to wipe the disease out completely on the island nation."

The correspondent's piece also briefly spotlighted the Prime Minister and how she was  "thrust into the international spotlight last year when an Australian gunman massacred Muslims in the city of Christchurch".

"Seventy-two hours after the deadliest mass shooting in New Zealand's history, Ardern announced a ban on semi-automatic weapons while also consoling a traumatised nation."

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Watson said: "The 39-year-old has shown her softer side, broadcasting live on Facebook in a sweatshirt, and sending a message to children that, despite the lockdown, the Easter bunny is still an essential worker."

Although most political parties in New Zealand have given Ardern and the Government praise for their efforts in trying to stamp out the virus and keep the economy afloat, some have suggested she could have moved even quicker. 

For example, the National Party has been calling for mandatory quarantining, including by launching a petition on Tuesday which it said received an unprecedented response. While Ardern signalled on Monday that tougher border measures were on their way, full details and the extent of the new controls weren't announced until Thursday. Ardern said the scale of that task meant mandatory quarantining wasn't something that could be introduced overnight. 

"Nearly 40,000 New Zealanders have returned home since 20 March, when we closed the border to foreign nationals. That is more than all of the hotel rooms across the country that we could have properly housed people in. There has always been urgency around this matter, but, simply put, we could not have done it from the beginning, but we can and are doing it now," she said on Thursday.

While the country's lockdown is scheduled to last for another two weeks, Ardern and officials will meet on April 20 to decide whether to extend it. If community transmission is detected across Aotearoa then the strict restrictions may remain in place nationwide. However, there is also the option to lift the lockdown in some regions and keep it in others.

Modelling released on Thursday found that New Zealand could contain the virus if the lockdown ended after its four-week run and fast contact tracing was underway. Our current daily numbers do track similarly to that "optimistic" view, however, in "realistic" or "pessimistic" scenarios, New Zealand could see another outbreak if the lockdown was lifted. Having the lockdown in place for 45 days would likely see the virus contained while a 90-day lockdown could see it eliminated.