I thought you might find it interesting to read how another country is handling this crisis. Here’s the view from New Zealand.
Prioritizing People Over “The Economy.”
What feels like months ago now but was probably a week, the government of New Zealand announced a huge package to support residents affected by coronavirus.
- People who need to self-quarantine can get government support, so there is less incentive to break quarantine.
- People who are affected are encouraged to call the local equivalent of Unemployment for help with food, housing, utility bills, etc. There is an assumption here that the government will help you.
- The government will give companies money to subsidize the salaries of employees, up to nearly $600/week. This way when all this is over, places like restaurants and hotels and theaters can easily come back online. (Denmark is doing something similar. So is the UK. So is Ireland.)
- $500 million has been allocated to health services.
- Residential rent increase freeze for the next six months.
- Ban on tenancy terminations by the landlord for the next three months, unless the tenant agrees. However, tenants can’t use this as an excuse to stop paying rent if they’re still employed.
There’s also been structures put in place so building owners can get a mortgage holiday, a hold on evictions and a push for landlords to forgive rent. A property management company here sent notices that people who were late on rent would be evicted in 14 days, which violates the new regulations. They got a stern talking-to from the highest levels of government.They acknowledged that this would tank the NZ dollar for a while, but “lives are at stake.” I have heard that there’s some controversy in the US as to whether it makes sense to let 3 million people die in order to keep the stock market from dropping. That never seemed to be a consideration here.
New Zealand is extending visitor visas until September. We got an email explaining that visa services have all been sent home for the lockdown, they’re only processing visas for health care workers, and we should get an email in early April about the extension. We had already filed for a slightly different version of the visitor visa (the 9-month version), but it sounds like it won’t be an issue.
There’s 1000-1500 tests performed per day. Based on the size of the population, it’s the equivalent of the US performing 100,000-150,000 tests per day. The results seem to come back in 24 hours, which I think is faster than the US. Not sure but I think we’re using the WHO test.As of a few days ago, NZ was running at 1,250 tests per million of the population. It’s higher now. For comparison, at the same time the US was running at 75 tests per million and South Korea was at 5000 tests per million. I think the goal is to be like South Korea, and it won’t take long to get there.
Quarantine for People From Overseas
About a week ago, New Zealand issued a requirement for people to self-quarantine for 14 days after entering the country. Lots of people (both citizens and visitors) ignored this. So they’ve taken stricter measures. All incoming people are asked for their self-quarantining plan. If it’s not solid, they’re placed in a hotel near the airport for 14 days and monitored for illness. I suspect that will be in place for a long time.
We’ve gone under “Level 4” lockdown here. It’s more stringent than most other countries. Grocery stores are open, pharmacies are open, petrol stations are open. Restaurants, including takeaway restaurants, are closed. Epidemiologists here say takeaway is a potential infection vector.What’s Level 4? The levels are explained here. The government has done a lot to get this information out, from news media to social ads to an alert sent to everyone’s phone (even ours), but there were still a few people yesterday driving around saying they hadn’t heard about it.The local equivalents to Amazon are not shipping and don’t have staff in their warehouses. Their sites say “You can order and we will ship after April 24 when the lockdown ends.” Again, there’s concerns about the warehouses being an infection vector. There generally seems to be a sense of humor about it, as seen here:
But that doesn’t mean it’s not being taken seriously. Police are on the lookout for people who aren’t staying close to home. If you’re in a car you may be pulled over to find out where you’re going. At one point they said it would be OK to drive to a park or to the beach, but they’ve revised that. (Possibly due to seeing how Angelenos turned Runyon Canyon into an infection vector.)
The New Zealand government spent a lot of money several years ago to improve local internet infrastructure, and it has really paid off. By and large New Zealand is not seeing the issues with everyone working from home that other countries are having.
It’s not a great time to have an American accent here. Many of the local cases come from the US, either people coming back from holiday or tourists coming to the country. Therefore, US accents inspire serious social distancing. Europe has also been a big source of infections. Based on a quick read of the Board of Health’s listings, there haven’t been any from China.The Board of Health posts where people came from (places like Doha, Dubai and Singapore are generally people routing here from Europe) and how they are presumed to be infected. When 20 people on a group trip to NYC all come back infected, well, pretty easy to figure out.When I arrived I noticed Jacinda Ardern did not seem as popular as she is perceived to be internationally, mostly because people felt she wasn’t getting policy changes through quickly enough. That’s changed. General consensus is she’s great in a crisis and listens to the right experts. I’ve watched a few of her press conferences. They’re calming. They indicate that there is a need to be concerned, but they’re also upfront and clear about what they know and what they don’t. Here’s a good example:
And there is a bit of humor to them. For example, people here have been encouraged to use alternative methods of greeting such as the “East Coast Wave.” Not everyone knew what it was, so Prime Minister Ardern was asked to demonstrate. (Her NZSL interpreter demonstrated as well.)
She’s also not above doing a spontaneous Facebook Live Q&A. From bed. In her pajamas.
In every address, Prime Minister Ardern asks people to “be kind to one another.” The first time I heard it, it made me choke up a bit. Still does.
What’s happening in your country?
How is your country handling the coronavirus epidemic? I’ve been keeping up a bit through international news, but I’d love to see some reports from on the ground.