New Zealand’s effort to beat coronavirus is being slammed internationally today, with the plan to stamp it out being likened to childish ambition and lockdown measures reminiscent of an authoritarian regime.
Sunday Telegraph columnist Madeline Grant has poured scorn on New Zealand’s elimination strategy and the means taken to achieve our low rates of Covid-19 in a scathing article that warns the United Kingdom not to follow suit.
Dubbing New Zealand’s eradication strategy as a “cautionary tale”, the article, which was published on Sunday in the United Kingdom, slates our Government’s response as little more than vapid political virtue-signalling.
Her claims have been dismissed by a political commentator here as a “beat up” that grossly mischaracterises New Zealand’s situation.
Grant opines it will only be a matter of time before the public turn against its young, charismatic, female leader Jacinda Ardern, who has enjoyed “fawning media coverage surpassing even the high water-mark of Trudeau-mania”.
She also believes if New Zealand intends keeping Covid at bay, the country faces years of indefinite isolation, with domestic lockdowns a fixture of life and a loss of Western-style freedoms.
“We should be under no illusion- this is no model for New Zealand to follow, let alone a sophisticated global economy like ours.
“New Zealand has contained the virus, for now at least, registering the lowest mortality rates in the OECD, but it has taken genuinely draconian policies and great economic pain to get there.
“The Ardern administration is eliminating rights on a scale more reminiscent of authoritarian China than a Western liberal democracy.”
Extreme measures to keep Covid from our shores included banning foreigners, and making returnees paying to isolate in military-guarded facilities. She also cited a recent court case where a man was jailed for hugging a friend quarantining in a “detention centre”.
“The New Zealand experience should serve as a cautionary tale about the normalisation of over-reach,” she warned.
“Ardern has ridden high in the polls so far, but if such disruption continues, public appetite for keeping the county virus-free at any cost will surely wane, and the recent outbreak, despite New Zealand’s geographic isolation and its draconian policy response, suggests no country can postpone the inevitable.”
But one political commentator says while there are some legitimate arguments about dealing with the Covid crisis the reality of life Down Under was grossly mischaracterised by the UK columnist.
“Grant has painted something of a caricatured, beat up of what is occurring here,” blasted Dr Bryce Edwards.
He said although New Zealand had proved more successful than any other country in its elimination strategy, the general techniques used by our government didn’t differ remarkably from other countries.
It was also widely embraced across our political spectrum and this was a damning omission from her column that would potentially be read by millions of Britons.
Calling our latest move to lockdown excessively harsh, Grant said this social restriction had now become a form of international virtue-signalling and a privilege reserved for only the wealthiest nations.
She pointed out the whole of Auckland, which she mistakenly attributed as New Zealand’s capital, was sent into lockdown for a second time this year when four new cases in the community arose from a mystery source.
And though no one had died of Covid-19 since May, Grant said upcoming “Autumn” elections had been postponed following the small scale outbreak.
Grant notes before the recent spike, commentators were extolling Ardern’s earlier measures for putting the country on course to eradicate the virus.
The ambition was childish and hubristic in the extreme. Unless the planet reaches a state of elimination, New Zealand will have to stay in indefinite isolation, with domestic lockdowns a likely fixture of life, perhaps for years to come.”
She also fired a broadside at the Government saying the myopic focus on elimination had led to the biggest slide in GDP for three decades and catastrophic results for tourism.
This included crippling regional tourism citing Palau, Fiji and Vanuatu as hard hit by the lockdown, with pleas by island leaders to create air bridges with New Zealand to have “barely registered”.
“In seeking to be kind the Ardern administration has ended up being very cruel indeed.
“Excessively harsh lockdowns have become a form of international virtue-signalling; something only wealthy nations can afford, but promises catastrophe for the world’s poorest.”
But Edwards said there was no doubt the New Zealand Government’s approach was widely celebrated and agreed upon.
“Although she makes out that Jacinda Ardern’s approach is some sort of left wing adventure, she fails to indicate or even explain how those on the political right endorse the general approach taken by the Labour-led government.
“There is certainly no sense in which there is any likely rebellion against what the Government is doing. It’s quite the opposite. The Government has incredibly high levels of support precisely because of the highly-interventionist approach taken.”
While he conceded the lockdowns had been more stringent at times than in other western countries, he said by and large they didn’t differ remarkably.
“Certainly there is nothing particularly ‘socialist’ about what is happening in New Zealand. Yes, the nature of controls on society have been somewhat draconian at times but this is simply due to the nature of the crisis and is generally what countries are doing all over the world to fight the virus,” he said.
But the column did get across a legitimate argument on the vexed question of how to deal with Covid-19 and until there was a solution it was important to have critiques like this.
“We are grappling with an intractable public policy problem and therefore in order to find the best possible way forward for the future we need to widen the debate to include these sorts of perspectives,” he said.