New Zealand has entered Level 2, aka “Slightly Distanced Normality.” You may have heard that NZ has “eradicated” the virus. That’s why the country is starting to open up. What happened, and what’s going on now?

New Zealand started its lockdown with just over 100 cases, and it was much more stringent than the “shelter in place” measures in other countries. There was no takeout. There was almost no online commerce. (Just essentials.) All we had were grocery stores, drugstores and gas stations.

And massive testing, and mandatory quarantines, and contact tracing, and government support for people who are ill.

  • If you wanted a test, you got a test. I know people personally who got tested (all negative).
  • If you tested positive, you were under mandatory quarantine. You were supported by the civil defence force, who would bring you groceries and whatever else you needed for the duration of your quarantine.
  • If you tested positive, they traced your contacts to find out where it came from. This has been spectacularly effective. They’ve identified 16 clusters; over the past two weeks the rare positive case has either been someone returning from overseas or someone who is connected to one of those clusters.
  • People who come in from overseas are in mandatory quarantine (in a pretty nice hotel) for 14 days.

Based on what I’ve seen in the news and heard from friends, none of the above is taking place in the US. Let me know if I’m wrong.

The five week long severe lockdown is what allowed them to get the testing and tracking in place. Australia had a somewhat less severe lockdown, which is working out well in some states but not others (Victoria and New South Wales).

Several commentators have said, “But New Zealand is different because it’s an island.” Well, a lot of these tactics were straight-up lifted off South Korea, which is definitely not an island and also has a very low infection rate.

So where are we now?

  • We are able to travel within the country, but non-citizens still may not enter.
  • People are allowed to go to their offices, but most companies are instead asking people to work from home if at all possible.
  • We can eat at restaurants, but it is restricted to table service rather than counter service. (This country has a lot of counter service and everyone always pays at the counter so I’m really not sure how that’s going to work out.)
  • We’re mostly being asked to stay at 2 meters (6 feet) of distance, although for offices it’s one meter.
  • Gatherings are limited to 10 people except for funerals and tangihanga (the Maori death ceremony), which are limited to 50 people.
  • “Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands.” (That’s a direct quote from the official government website.)

The economy is hurting, but not nearly as much as many other countries. The government is already putting actions in place to lessen the economic blow. At the same time, forecasters are saying unemployment might jump as high as 15% (from 4% in March), in large part because this has pulled the rug out from under international tourism. For comparison, Goldman Sachs just predicted the US will hit 35%.

A lot of people are comparing New Zealand to Sweden because the approaches have been polar opposites. People have claimed that Sweden has faced a lower economic impact, and that since 50% of the dead are over 70, they made the right choice. However, the most recent reports indicate that Sweden is facing similar unemployment issues due to global economic circumstances. And I personally wouldn’t be willing to kill any of the people over 70 I love in order to bring the unemployment rate down by a point. (I wouldn’t be willing to kill any of you who were under 70 too, in case you were worrying.) Obviously, however, it will be years before we know for certain whose methods worked out best in the long run.