New Zealand Government May Try To Eradicate Coronavirus

'We have the opportunity to do something no other country has achieved -- elimination of the virus,' says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand.
Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images

'We have the opportunity to do something no other country has achieved -- elimination of the virus,' says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

The coronavirus pandemic has been wrecking the world for months, forcing governments around the globe to grapple with the crisis. Most countries are trying to flatten the curve and are imposing measures to save lives, preserve resources, and ensure that health care systems are not overwhelmed. New Zealand might take a different approach.

According to a new report from Bloomberg, the New Zealand government apparently believes it can eradicate COVID-19 completely.

“We have the opportunity to do something no other country has achieved — elimination of the virus,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said earlier this week.

Unlike many countries, New Zealand reacted swiftly, with the government imposing a strict nationwide lockdown before a single death was reported. The death toll in the South Pacific nation is 11, which makes it one of the lowest in the developed world. In comparison, Ireland — which has around 5 million residents, just like New Zealand — has seen 500 deaths and more than 13,000 COVID-19 cases.

On Monday, Ardern will decide whether to loosen restrictions or declare war on the virus. If restrictions are loosened, New Zealand will likely see an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths. But if restrictions remain in place, the country’s economy will suffer a major blow because any attempt to eradicate the virus would mean that borders have to stay closed. This would destroy the tourism industry which New Zealand heavily relies on.

As Michael Baker, a professor at the University of Otago’s Department of Public Health in Wellington, explained, most countries are treating coronavirus as if it were the common flu. According to Baker, this is not the right way to tackle the pandemic, given that the incubation period for coronavirus is twice as long as the incubation period for influenza.

According to Baker, the most efficient way to contain the coronavirus is “when someone gets sick, if you isolate them quickly and round up their contacts, you can quarantine those people and interrupt that chain of transmission.”

Australia has taken a more relaxed approach. According to Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases physician at Canberra Hospital, “Australia is doing better than New Zealand without going to that extreme.” New Zealand’s strategy, he opined, seems unrealistic.

“The reality is this virus is everywhere, it’s all around the world. So even if you’re successful for a short period of time, how long do you do this for? Six months? Two years? Invariably, you’re going to get the virus re-introduced,” he said.

The United States momentarily leads the world in coronavirus cases. China, where the virus originated, recently revised its numbers, with the official death toll in the city of Wuhan jumping 50 percent.