New Zealand's ongoing self-siege is not at all a COVID-19 ‘Success Story'

A failure in assessing risk with devastating future consequences.

New Zealand has now taken on the mantle of the model coronavirus response nation, according to the latest prevailing wisdom, following Australia’s implosion as the media and “public health experts’” previous favorite COVID-19 “success story.”

On Sunday, New Zealand marked 100 days without any detected community spread of the novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China. The media, government bureaucrats, and politicians worldwide congratulated Wellington for its “success” in keeping its people free (temporarily) from infection. The chattering classes took to social media, discussing how “lucky” New Zealand was to have its apparent capable and wise leadership in their government.

New Zealand is indeed temporarily free from the coronavirus, which has killed an estimated 0.2% of people it infects, but at what cost did they pay — and what will the future consequences be — to become the latest “success story” nation?

The land and sea borders to the islands remain completely closed to visitors. Tourism has been indefinitely canceled. New Zealand cannot even accept visitors from neighboring Australia. Tourism is a massive industry in New Zealand. It accounts for 6 percent of GDP, and 8.4 percent of the country’s workforce, or 230,000 Kiwis, are employed in the tourism industry. Government officials have acknowledged that Wellington may be looking at shutting down tourism for years to come.

People are getting a lot poorer. The country entered into a recession in June. A new jobs report found that in addition to the 4% of the workforce that cannot find a job, some 346,000 Kiwis are underemployed. Bloomberg reports that the nation is expected more economic woes ahead, “bracing for a severe contraction” in the economy. All of the supposed success that New Zealand has had in sheltering its people from the virus has not made a dent on the New Zealand dollar and its value related to the U.S. dollar or China’s currency.

New Zealand doesn’t appear to have a set end game on how it will deal with the coronavirus. Officials appear to be banking on a widespread vaccine with unprecedented efficacy to keep them sheltered from the virus. However, that’s a pipe dream, according to the people on the front lines of the vaccine development process. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leader of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has cautioned that such a high percentage efficacy rate is probably untenable. In an interview this weekend, Fauci said “the chances of [the vaccine] being 98% effective is not great,” adding that his goal for success starts at 50% or higher.

So how many lives have been temporarily spared by these extreme measures undertaken by Wellington? It’s hard to put a ballpark estimate on overall deaths, but if you extrapolate the 500 deaths per million we’re currently registering from/with COVID-19 in the United States, we would see around 2,500 Kiwis die from/with the virus. If you take Germany’s more rigidly defined outputs, with its 110 deaths per million number, about 550 deaths would be expected to occur in New Zealand in a similar timeframe. Going with an estimated infection fatality rate of 0.2%, assuming the virus infects 25% of the population, New Zealand could expect a total of 2,400 deaths from/with COVID-19

New Zealand’s self-siege-until-vaccine strategy has already produced devastating societal and economic consequences, and there is no end of the road in sight. The vaccine, if it ever appears, will not be effective enough to protect the population from the coronavirus. When New Zealand opens back up, the virus will still be circulating around the globe, and much of the population will inevitably face risk of infection. New Zealand has temporarily shielded its 4.8 million citizens from the virus, but at a tremendous cost that is going to set back Kiwis for years, in addition to making them significantly poorer, and granting New Zealand’s citizens fewer opportunities to prosper. In the end, infections will incur despite New Zealand’s best efforts, but the damaging policies undertaken to delay infection will harm the country’s far more significantly than the novel coronavirus.

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