New Zealand launches investigation into its coronavirus response

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand is launching a broad investigation to determine whether it made the right decisions in the fight against COVID-19 and how it can best prepare for future pandemics.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand is launching a broad investigation to determine whether it made the right decisions in the fight against COVID-19 and how it can best prepare for future pandemics.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday that the coronavirus had posed the biggest threat to the nation’s health and economy since World War II. She said now was an appropriate time to examine the government’s response with the highest level of independent inquiry.

Among the questions will be whether or not New Zealand took the right approach initially by imposing strict lockdowns and border quarantine restrictions to try to eliminate the virus entirely.

That zero-tolerance strategy was initially hailed internationally as a success because New Zealand’s death rate remained much lower than in most other countries and people were able to go on with their lives as normal.

But over time, the drawbacks of the elimination approach became more apparent as the economic and social costs increased. Some citizens faced long delays in returning home due to a bottleneck at border quarantine facilities.

The government finally abandoned its elimination approach in October 2021 after new, more contagious variants proved impossible to contain and people were given the chance to get vaccinated.

China is one of the only countries that continues to apply a zero tolerance policy. Experts say the approach is unsustainable in the long term and that China has no exit strategy.

The New Zealand Royal Commission of Inquiry will be led by Tony Blakely, an Australian-based epidemiologist and professor. Starting early next year, he has 17 months to investigate and prepare a comprehensive report.

Ardern said it was critical to detail what worked in his response to help the country weather future pandemics.

“We didn’t have a playbook for managing COVID but as a country we came together in an extraordinary way and saved lives and livelihoods,” he said.

COVID-19 response minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said one of the lessons was that having a prescriptive pandemic plan, like New Zealand’s influenza-based plan before the arrival of COVID-19, it was not of much use.

“I guess the lesson has been learned that just looking at the characteristics of a bug is not going to be enough,” Verrall said. “You have to look much broader.”

Nick Perry, Associated Press




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