(File photo, Getty Images)
(File photo, Getty Images)

PoliticsJune 18, 2020

Irony alert: International researchers declare NZ’s Covid-19 response best in the world

(File photo, Getty Images)
(File photo, Getty Images)

In a massively ironic piece of timing, international research group The Economist Intelligence Unit declared the New Zealand’s government response to Covid-19 the best in the OECD on the same day that massive health ministry failings were revealed.

The Economist Intelligence Unit has ranked 21 countries throughout the OECD on how well they’ve responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. New Zealand’s response went straight to the top of the list with perfect scores on testing capability and an extremely low death rate. The only mark taken off came on non-Covid healthcare.

However, this praise came on the same day as consistent failures around quarantining and testing international arrivals were revealed. These events culminated with the news that two people who subsequently tested positive for Covid-19 had been allowed to drive from Auckland to Wellington, including a close contact with a woman who later went to a gym session. That close contact has subsequently tested negative.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern characterised the bungle as an “unacceptable failure of the system” just hours before several more bungles emerged, while director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield admitted to Newstalk ZB this morning that he had no idea how many people had left their quarantine hotels without first being tested for Covid-19.

The report from the Economist Intelligence Unit assessed each country’s response to testing success, death rates, and provision of non-Covid healthcare over the course of the pandemic. Ratings were given on a scale of one to four, with one being the lowest. Countries weren’t being rated on the stringency of their response so much as the success of it.

New Zealand received the highest score with 3.67 out of four, but many other relatively wealthy countries recorded poor scores. Japan, for instance, scored a one for testing provision while others were also marked down for their non-Covid health provision.

In terms of the death rate, the countries marked lowest were the UK, Spain, Belgium and Italy. The report noted that Italy and Spain were unlucky here – as the first European countries to be hit hard their governments had less information to work with. No such excuses were made for the UK though with the report criticising the “insufficiently fast and co-ordinated response, an initial lack of testing capacity, and a decision to suspend track and trace in early March”.

While lockdown stringency wasn’t directly measured, it’s manifested in some of the death rates between roughly comparable countries. Norway, for example, which locked down very hard, has seen 243 deaths and recorded a strong score in the survey as a result. By contrast, Sweden, which has seen comparatively relaxed restrictions, has had a much higher death toll at 4,891 to date and was marked down accordingly.

Perhaps surprisingly for watchers of Donald Trump, the report declared that the United States response was actually fairly strong. They noted that the response began poorly but that the country’s extreme death toll was influenced by having a very high-risk profile through a relatively old population with high rates of obesity.

It also wasn’t necessarily the case that richer countries automatically did better than poorer countries. The survey noted that Chile did far better than the UK, despite having about a third of GDP per capita.

The survey didn’t include Taiwan, which has been particularly successful in preventing mass casualties from the coronavirus.

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