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New Zealand Is Not Messing Around, Enters a “Level 4” Lockdown Over a Single Case of COVID-19

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference

New Zealand is entering a nationwide lockdown after a single case of COVID-19 has been detected. The country will move into a level 4 alert–the highest level possible–starting Tuesday night. The lockdown will last for at least three days in most of the country, and four to seven days in the areas of Coromandel and Aukland. (The person who tested positive had just returned to Aukland after visiting Coromandel, a coastal town.)

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This isn’t the first COVID-19 case detected recently in New Zealand, but it is the first one that doesn’t appear to have any connection to the country’s border facilities. Over approximately the last month, 79 cases were found (and presumably contained) at the border, and all of them were the highly contagious Delta variant.

In a press conference, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged people to comply willingly with the lockdown and not leave their homes for non-essential reasons. “Just as we successfully stayed home and saved lives last year, I’m asking the team of 5 million to unite once more to defeat what is likely to be this more dangerous and transmissible variant of the virus,” she said.

“Delta has been called a gamechanger, and it is. It means we need to again go hard and early to stop the spread. We have seen what can happen elsewhere if we fail to get on top of it. We only get one chance,” said Ardern Tuesday.

“We are one of the last countries in the world to have the Delta variant in our community, so we have had the chance to learn from others,” she continued. “We’ve seen the dire consequences of taking too long to act in other countries, not least our neighbours.” Australia is currently in the middle of a COVID-19 crisis, trying to get the Delta variant under control. Currently, only about 20% of New Zealand’s population is fully vaccinated due to supply constraints.

No one wants to be under lockdown. Between the financial impact and the emotional toll, this kind of isolation hits a lot of people really hard. (Those living alone in New Zealand are allowed to “bubble” with only one other person, but they can only bubble with one another, no one else. We saw here in the U.S. just how meaningless and unsafe those overlapping “pods” a lot of people tried were in the end.)

But speaking as someone living in a country that still refuses to take adequate steps to protect itself–in a city in a county in a state in a country that all have wildly different ideas of what that even means–I have to say I am wildly jealous of this kind of leadership.

Last spring, New Zealand entered a swift and strict lockdown and all but eradicated COVID-19. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., we faced endless opposition to lockdowns, largely because of the potential economic impact. As a result, it’s a year and a half later and not only is the virus far from under control with more than 600,000 dead, but unemployment reached a record high from which we still haven’t fully recovered, millions of people are at risk of eviction, and approximately 200,000 businesses have been forced to close. Talk about economic impact.

Ardern asked New Zealanders to “be kind” to each other during this difficult time, saying, “I know that one of the worst things about Covid-19 is the absolute uncertainty that it creates. But we know more now than we did a year ago. We know that the strategy works. We know that we are a strong team of 5 million. And we know that life will get easier. We just need to keep going.”

(via The Guardian, BBC, image: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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