Coronavirus: Boris Johnson accused of stealing Jacinda Ardern's COVID-19 policies, 'mountain' analogy

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been accused of stealing coronavirus policies and speech notes from New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern.

In a televised address on Sunday (local time), Johnson unveiled his 'COVID-19 Alert System', calling it the "roadmap" by which the UK will stymie the disease - but it's an approach that sounds suspiciously like the New Zealand Government's own alert level system.

It's prompted a backlash, with social media users accusing him of stealing both that idea and our mandatory 14-day quarantine for overseas arrivals - a policy New Zealand implemented over a month ago.

Newshub will have special coverage of the alert level 2 announcement on Three from 4pm. It will also be streamed on newshub.co.nz.

It's also been noted that Johnson's speech - in particular a 'coming down the mountain' metaphor - was just a little too similar to a recent address by our own Prime Minister, in which she spoke about descending Everest.

Here's what Johnson is accused of stealing from Ardern.

UK v New Zealand alert level and quarantine policies

Johnson announced his new 'COVID Alert System' during the address to the nation - a system that, like New Zealand's, will drop levels as the risk of infection falls.

However unlike New Zealand, the UK has five alert levels, and a newly established Joint Biosecurity Centre will determine the risk and the extent of lockdown.

"Level 1 means the disease is no longer present in the UK and level 5 is the most critical - the kind of situation we could have had if the NHS had been overwhelmed," he said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo credit: Newshub.

"Over the period of the lockdown we have been in level 4, and it is thanks to your sacrifice we are now in a position to begin to move in steps to level 3."

Level 3, which the UK is anticipated to move into within the next fortnight, is similar to New Zealand's alert level 2 in that it allows the hospitality sector and other public places to reopen with strict physical distancing requirements.

New Zealand announced its alert level system 51 days ago, on March 21.

The UK government's new 14-day mandatory quarantine of international air travel passengers is also very similar to New Zealand's policy, which was implemented on April 9.

Already, people have noted the similarities.

"Boris Johnson has announced 14 days self-isolation for arrivals into the UK from a date as yet unfixed!" Mike Rann wrote.

"This was implemented by NZ and Australia in mid-March. Several months of indecision while people were dying. PM Jacinda Ardern introduced NZ's 4 phase alert system on March 21."

"'Boris Johnson to launch COVID-19 alert system'... Now, this is a waste of time and resources, we all know how bad it is," another Twitter user wrote.

"To FINALLY introduce a mandatory 14-day quarantine is too late, why isn't Jacinda Ardern British? That's a true leader."

Johnson's 'mountain' metaphor v Ardern's 'Everest' analogy

Perhaps less serious than outright stealing policy, Johnson has also been accused of pilfering a mountain analogy from Ardern's speech on alert level 2 last week.

In his address on Sunday, Johnson told the UK that it had "been through the initial peak" and would now be descending the mountain.

"We have been through the initial peak, but it is coming down the mountain that is often more dangerous," Johnson said.

"We have a route, and we have a plan, and everyone in government has the all-consuming pressure and challenge to save lives, restore livelihoods and gradually restore the freedoms that we need, but in the end, this is a plan that everyone must make work."

Many Twitter users have noticed that the mountain metaphor - and the meaning behind it - was similar to our Prime Minister's 'Everest' analogy on Thursday.

"We think of ourselves as halfway down Everest," she told media.

"I think it is clear that no one wants to hike back up that peak. The descent is known to be even more dangerous so we must proceed with caution."

Why the UK and New Zealand are always compared

The UK and New Zealand have frequently been contrasted throughout the coronavirus crisis. While we have kept COVID-19 case numbers below 1500, the UK's have ballooned to 219,000 - and our 21 deaths are in stark juxtaposition to their 31,800.

While there are of course many reasons for the differing levels of success each nation has enjoyed, one oft pointed out is our approaches: the UK initially opted to let it spread to gain 'herd immunity', while New Zealand tried to minimise infection early.

Part of the novelty of comparing the UK with New Zealand and Johnson with Ardern appears to have been borne out of a tweet by Ardern - posted in 2012, well before her own meteoric rise to Prime Minister - in which she questions Johnson's leadership credentials and labels him "the gaffe man".

However the comparisons have been so constant that UK columnist Brendan O'Neill addressed it in a piece for the Spectator last week.

"Ms Ardern should not get over-excited about some of the gushing coverage she is receiving in liberal circles in the UK, because I'm afraid she is being marshalled to the low, morbid endeavour of using the Covid tragedy to score points against the Tories," he wrote.

"The virtual beatification of Ms Ardern by Brits of a liberal or leftish persuasion speaks to an inability to face up to political reality."

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