The fickle meaning of success during COVID-19

By Tom Carnegie

Being born and raised in New Zealand, before immigrating to the UK three years ago, I often find myself comparing how both countries, who have taken such drastically different approaches, have responded to COVID-19.

Reading and watching the news from national media outlets of both countries has made me realise the differing levels of trust the general public has for their respective governments. It’s hard to find a greater example then the recent election results in New Zealand. The country has overwhelmingly swung left to Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party, who can now if they choose, form a single party government. This is a stark contrast to the election three years ago when Labour got in by the skin of their teeth, having lost the popular vote, they had to form a coalition with a controversial minor party in order to govern.

Objectively, this election was an overwhelming success for Labour, the nation has spoken and said they trust how the party has led through the pandemic so far and will continue to do so over the next three years. While every death is sad, New Zealand has seen success in keeping its death toll from COVID-19 to just 25 people at the time of writing. The UK’s is currently at 43,726. For further reference, Denmark which has comparable population size has had 680 deaths.

When I talk to friends and family back home, I see the social success New Zealand has had in its response to COVID-19. Life has returned almost back to normal – attending live bands in the weekends, no face masks, retail open for business and the thing that makes me the most jealous – sitting in the crowd watching the All Blacks play Australia!

Through this success, Jacinda’s international reach and stardom has taken off during COVID-19. Global media cannot get enough of her, she dominates news headlines and her photo is often splashed across the BBC, The Times, Forbes and the New York Times, the list goes on. Why the international media cares so much about the leader of a country of 5 million people at the bottom of the world, is again a success. She, in the international media’s eyes, embodies what successful leadership is and embodies what the general public of other nations long for. Whether you do or don’t support her, its hard to argue with her ability to be relatable and empathetic, yet at the same time clear, concise and stern in her leadership.

Don’t get me wrong, New Zealand has some major challenges ahead due to COVID-19, they are relying heavily on a vaccine, whenever that comes, and the question remains how does a country that sees one new COVID-19 case as a failure get to a stage where it can open its borders again. Businesses that rely heavily on tourism are hurting. On a personal level, I would have to pay NZD$3,000 in quarantine charges to see my family, something I find increasingly difficult to understand and I’m not sure when I will get to see my family again. It is no doubt going to be a rocky recovery and there will of course be failures for New Zealand.

I also know comparing the UK with New Zealand is somewhat apples and oranges. I often hear “New Zealand has it easy because it’s a small island nation that shut its borders”. But I don’t fully buy this. When I read how the UK (also an island nation) is responding to COVID-19 I see far less success, instead I see mainly confusion. High ranking officials with COVID-19 taking long drives to test their eye sight – despite the guidance being to stay at home, all of us being told to eat out to help out – despite guidance that people should be eating more healthy, U-turns and a tier system only introduced this month. All the while the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow.

Simple communication, sacrifice, a common goal and public buy in, this is what brings success in the fight against COVID-19. Not just the geographical advantage of being at the bottom of the world.

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