The View from New Zealand

Some debates I’ve been watching

I love seeing how groups of people react differently to the same events, and especially how they group themselves together. The immediate aftermath of an event can be confusing because you’re not yet sure what your tribe thinks about it. But as time goes on, the group understands what it stands for. And that often comes with a lot of “us vs them” thinking. Many discussions end up boiling down to “We all know x is the right answer, but can you believe these people who think y?” We express shock, dismay, or even disgust. But through these emotions we’re also building rapport with our in-group.

Debate #1: Do we close the borders?

The first case of Covid came into New Zealand from Iran on the 28th of February, one month after the WHO declared the virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. There was active debate over that month about if New Zealand should be closing its borders.

Debate #2: Is there community transmission?

We eventually learned the answer to this question. But it was extremely tempting for the first few weeks to imagine a New Zealand where every case was traced and accounted for, with no community transmission. At this point, schools and work were still operating normally. I remember a feeling of creeping dread, but I think many people were pushing back the bad thoughts. For me, it felt like “We definitely won’t be another Italy, Iran, or China … right? I hope I’m right. I don’t know how I’ll cope otherwise.”

Debate #3: Why are schools still open?

In the end, we did close schools. But I remember many conversations where people told me “children have a right to an education.” Which I don’t think anyone disagrees with. But when the school is on fire, has an active shooter, or a killer virus is ravaging your country, priorities temporarily shift.

Debate #4: Did we overreact?

New Zealand had one of the most strict lockdowns of any country, and certainly in the western world. There were no deliveries other than for essential items, which meant no takeaway and no online shopping. Parks, beaches, and other community spaces were closed.

Debate #5: Australia did fine without these intense measures

Kiwis arguing that we overreacted point to our neighbours to the west to demonstrate that we didn’t need to be so “extra” with our response. The overall summary is that NZ and Australia did achieve similarly low numbers, and that Australians were allowed to keep more businesses open.

Debate #6: Our numbers are low because of low population density

This makes a lot of intuitive sense. If you spread a disease in a small room with 100 people, it’ll affect far more people than a big room with ten people. But when you chart population density against death rates, there’s no correlation:

Image for post
Image for post

Debate #6: Testing isn’t where it needs to be

New Zealand has been ramping up its testing and aims to have some of the best tracing in the world. But there have been concerns since day one that New Zealand isn’t doing enough randomised testing in the community to truly understand how the disease is spreading.

Debate #7: We can’t get complacent

Overall, New Zealanders have followed the directions really well and are staying home. One week ago, they loosened the lockdown a bit. This means now you can do online shopping and takeaways. But this has led to a lot of concern that kiwis aren’t going to take the lockdown seriously anymore, and we’ll lose all the great progress we’ve made so far.

Debate #8: How is Jacinda Ardern doing?

Jacinda is the head of a liberal government, and the country leans to the right. This means the same old fault lines still exist. People on the left are more likely to support her, people on the right are less likely to. That said, the politics are nowhere near as polarised as in the states. Her approval ratings are quite high. (But not perfect! Ardern’s government has definitely been called to account for some misteps amongst the generally high marks)

Non-debate #9: How is Donald Trump doing?

There’s no debate here. Donald Trump is not doing a good job, and if you agree with that statement, you are part of the largest community of like-minded people on the planet.

Written by

I love building things.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store