Was New Zealand Lucky With Covid?
Sure, but that’s only part of the story
When Covid first hit, every country charted a course based on the best information they had available. Island nations reacted differently from land-locked ones. Highly dense countries were working with different realities from sparsely populated ones. Locations with limited ICU beds were forced to make decisions that had more robust health care systems.
So one theory about how New Zealand did so well with Covid was that it’s a small country, lightly populated, surrounded by the entire Pacific Ocean. And that’s true. There are only five million people, our density is low, and you can’t just walk into our country from a bordering country. So of course that made a difference. But it wasn’t the only thing.
Any country around the world, island-nation or not, could have decided to ground all non-essential flights. Very few did. This was actually a more bold decision for an island nation to make, not less. If America stopped all flights, people could still travel via road or train. When New Zealand did, it was far more damaging to the economy, but we did it anyway. We don’t have enough ICU beds to pursue a high-risk strategy, so we locked it down early. It worked.
Next, quarantines. Any country around the world could have put together a network of state-sponsored quarantines by working with hotels. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but my sense is that a lot of countries allow you to fly into an airport, climb into an Uber, and go wherever you want, without any kind of quarantining process. For an airborne virus, this is incredible. Look at the countries with quarantines and compare them to the ones without them. It’s clear they help reduce spread, and unclear why some countries don’t require them.
So New Zealand did get lucky, sure. But the much bigger part of the success is that we grounded flights and instituted quarantines. We did it because we bet that you can’t have an economy if you don’t first have public healt. We made a calculated bet to sacrifice the former for the latter (with heavy governmental subsidies), whereas other countries were scared to take those bold steps and disrupt their economy. That was the big difference, and it wasn’t luck. Any country could make the same decisions. Any country still can.