Volunteer writer, Izzie Naish, speaks about how Jacinda Arden’s leadership skills have helped to essentially eliminate Covid-19 from New Zealand.
New Zealand has reported no new cases for the first time but, what has Jacinda Arden done differently to other world leaders?
As each country attempts to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, the one that has appeared to successfully ‘eliminate’ the coronavirus is New Zealand, led by Jacinda Arden.
Since being elected in as the country’s 40th prime minister in 2017, Arden has been internationally recognised for her effective leadership – most notably for her dedication towards fighting the climate crisis and her compassion towards New Zealand’s Muslim communities in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, touching many around the world. It appears as though she’s had similar success in responding to the coronavirus outbreak, with only 1,154 confirmed cases and 21 deaths among the country’s 5 million citizens at the time of writing.
As opposed to other countries with land borders, islands such as New Zealand and the United Kingdom had a geographical advantage: if they restricted travel to and from then the likelihood of the virus reaching their land is significantly reduced. Arden was quick to restrict travel, setting a mandatory 14-day quarantine for those arriving from China in early February and shutting the borders to non-citizens on March 19th. She then imposed a nation-wide lockdown early on, forcing all New Zealanders to self-isolate on 25th March, when the country had 205 confirmed cases. On the day Arden announced the travel ban, she stated “I recognise how extraordinary this is [but] I’m not willing to take risks here” – an attitude which contrasts to that of the UK leaders, who contemplated letting the virus transmit through the population to gain herd immunity at the expense of many lives. To then only implementing nationwide lockdown once 5683 cases had been confirmed and 281 people had died. The UK government has been criticised for imposing its lockdown too late, a measure which could have been more effective than it has been if it were implemented earlier. New Zealand prove that idea is true; Arden learnt from countries like Italy and chose to ‘go early, go hard’, which Johnson arguably did not. She acted while the number of confirmed cases were still small, within what she called “the window of opportunity”, and as a result the virus reached only a small proportion of the population – unlike in the UK.
Arden has not only been celebrated for her decision-making but, she has also been recognised for her leadership style; assertive yet personable. She has a noticeably likeable, perhaps most importantly when attempting to get your citizens to comply with intense restrictions, relatable presence; a leaked poll by UMR showing she has an approval rating of 65%. Unlike Johnson who defied his own hand-washing advice in saying that he shook hands with coronavirus patients and has defended his advisors which have broken lockdown rules, Arden abided to the restrictions as though she were any other citizen and assured that anyone she comes into contact with is in her work or personal bubbles. Her broadcasts have been well received by the population, and she introduced a clear four-stage alert level system early on in the process to simplify the steps her government were taking. Johnson however has been critiqued by the media for his long yet vague and confusing briefings; the direct opposite to Arden’s which have been called by ‘The Independent’: “a masterclass in crisis communications”.
Additionally, over the last couple of days Arden has been encouraging New Zealanders to prioritise their wellbeing and establish a work-life balance, even suggesting a four-day working week. Instead of risking the reintroduction of the virus from overseas through lifting the travel ban, she has also been advocating domestic tourism as a way to stimulate the country’s heavily tertiary-sector economy as restrictions are lifted. Both are steps that, going off his past decisions, Johnson most likely wouldn’t make. At the end of the day a nation is more likely to follow a leader who is personable and follows their own rules, which is perhaps why Arden and her measures have been more well-received by her population than Johnson.
Yes, the UK and many other countries with higher infection rates and death tolls do have much larger populations. New Zealand is also more favourably positioned geographically due to its relative isolation from the rest of the world. However, without effective leadership or any intervention to curb the transmission of the virus New Zealand could easily have had a higher proportion of deaths comparable to that of the UK or the USA; in theory any country could have. However, through acting decisively and leading the country with transparency and compassion it appears that Arden has successfully stemmed the spread of the virus in New Zealand – for the moment at least.
Featured image by Frankie Stevens.