Boris Johnson, Jacinda Ardern, Donald Trump. Photos: Alberto Pezalli/AFP, Dave Rowland, Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency, all via Getty Images

Yes, this will hurt our economy. Letting Covid-19 take grip would hurt us more

Siouxsie Wiles on the contrasting responses by leaders in the US, Britain and New Zealand.


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It’s been a whirlwind few days on the Covid-19 front. The biggest headline of today was Jacinda Ardern’s announcement of a blanket requirement of 14 days self-isolation for anyone arriving from overseas – from anywhere in the world apart from the Pacific. It is a bold and necessary step.

It had been a dramatic day already. Early in the afternoon New Zealand’s sixth confirmed case of the virus was revealed. The man, in his 60s, had recently travelled here from the US. I’d like to thank that man for calling his GP ahead of time so they could make the necessary arrangements to assess him without putting any staff and patients at risk of contracting the virus.

Meanwhile, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s wife has tested positive, as has actor Tom Hanks and his wife in Australia. So, too, the Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton, who also just returned from the USA. Apparently, he was there to have meetings with senior Trump administration officials including Ivanka Trump and William Barr.

It’s just two weeks since the US reported their first cases of community transmission of Covid-19 and I raised my concerns about how woefully under-prepared they seemed to be. It’s no surprise. Back in 2018, President Trump’s administration basically axed the executive branch team responsible for coordinating a pandemic response and didn’t bother replacing it. Not only that, the US has no statutory paid sick leave and basically despises socialised healthcare.

Fast forward 14 days, and Trump has had to declare a state of emergency. And, yes, that announcement was made to unlock money to help combat the virus. But it is also a pretty accurate assessment of the country’s affairs. Not that it has prompted them to take anywhere near the drastic measures they actually need to bring the outbreak under control. Instead Trump suspended all flights from Europe. That’s shutting the stable door after the horse has galloped away.

One ray of sunshine is Katie Porter who serves as Representative for California’s 45th congressional district. She just got CDC Director Dr Robert Redfield to commit to using his powers to make testing for Covid-19 free to every American. It turns out he can make that happen under statute 42 CFR 71.30 which states that the CDC director “may authorise payment for the care and treatment of individuals subject to medical exam(ination), quarantine, isolation and conditional release.” He tried to dodge making any firm stand but Ms Porter was relentless, and he made the promise.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson has told the UK public to expect many families to lose loved ones “before their time”. From the British prime minister’s announcement it looks like they are playing Covid-19 in “survival of the fittest” mode. I’m not sure why I expected more from a political party that has spent the last decade dismantling the National Health Service so they could sell it to their private sector friends. They’ve shown disdain for the importance of people’s health before. Why would that change just because we are in the midst of a pandemic?

In better news, our country’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has responded to the threat of Covid-19 by announcing unprecedented measures to protect New Zealand from the disease. Unless they are coming from the Pacific, every person entering the country will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. This will be reviewed at the end of the month. She’s also put in strict border controls for people leaving New Zealand for the Pacific. And we will be closed to cruise ships until at least the end of June.

Ardern is doing exactly as the experts are recommending. She’s acting quickly and decisively to limit the spread of the virus here. Now she’ll need our support. Because as Professor Sir Robert Anderson wrote in the Lancet just a few days ago, we mustn’t stop doing what needs to be done too early just “to mitigate economic impact”. Until a vaccine is ready, and that could take one to two years, we are all susceptible to this virus. If we turn our back for a minute, we’ll be back on the path to a serious outbreak. Yes, this is going to hurt economically. But allowing the virus to take hold here would hurt us even more.


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