You may have seen the new, New Zealand has no active COVID-19 cases, the coronavirus has been eliminated from New Zealand. As of Monday, 8 June, the last infected person had recovered, and it has been over three weeks since the last new case was diagnosed. We have moved from having some of the strictest lockdown rules to totally relaxed, at least within the country. There is almost no risk of COVID-19 transmission inside New Zealand, so we are now protecting ourselves at the border. Anybody arriving in New Zealand is subject to a two-week, government-controlled, quarantine and a COVID test. We have very little immunity to COVID in New Zealand, only 1,100 or so confirmed cases out of five million people. We now live in a bubble, surrounded by countries that still have active transmission, and any breach of our bubble will cause us to go back to lockdown. We will not be safe to leave the bubble until other counties eliminate COVID or a vaccine is widespread.
How did we eliminate COVID? Our government went early and went hard. The first step was strict border controls since the only way the disease arrives is with an infected person from overseas. We are an island nation, and our nearest neighbors are three or more hours flight away, so border control is relatively easy. Only New Zealand citizens and permanent residents are allowed to enter the country, and those that did enter were required to self-isolate. The next step was a strict lockdown, we called it Level 4, and it meant that you had contact only with the people in your home. You only left home to go to the supermarket, the doctor, or for local exercise (no driving to your exercise.) Almost every business office was shut down, although you could keep working if you could work from home or were deemed an essential worker. Essential meant healthcare, food supply, or services for other essential workers. No cafes, no hairdressers, not even a hardware store, and most online shops were effectively closed because delivery workers were only allowed to deliver for essential services. We had a month at level four, and it was peaceful and surreal. I could run down the middle of the main street outside my house because there were so few cars, I often did that to avoid getting too close to other people out for exercise. This lockdown was where the transmission was broken, and where we realized how close we were to a much bigger problem. A single social gathering not far from where I live led to 70 COVID-19 cases. A single infection in a rest home spread and caused multiple deaths. If we were not on lockdown, then our thousand cases might have been ten thousand or a hundred thousand. Our twenty-two deaths might have been two thousand deaths as our hospitals were as overwhelmed, just like the worst affected countries in Europe.
One of the reasons that our lockdown was so successful was the clarity of communication from our leaders, specifically our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Director of Public Heath Ashley Bloomfield. Right through the lockdown, there was a daily news conference where updates were shared, and questions were answered with truth and clarity. No excuses, clear answers to journalists’ questions, and if the answer wasn’t known, then a commitment to get the answer. The lockdown happened fast, and as things eased there was disquiet about some restrictions which were discussed, and sometimes the limits were changed. There was no blaming or denial, just a strong focus on getting the job done and preventing the spread. From the beginning, the economy was a priority, and it was being protected by stopping the disease since sick and dead people do not help the economy. After our month of tight lockdown, we were progressively released through levels 3 and 2. Now we are at level 1 restrictions that are effectively border protection and public health readiness. Mass gatherings are allowed, and sports grounds are full of spectators, bars are busy, and shops are open. If you do not travel outside New Zealand, then it is life as normal. Unfortunately, I can no longer run down the middle of the road as there are plenty of cars again.
I usually travel a quarter of a million kilometers per year and visit twenty cities in half a dozen countries, so my work is very different now that I am inside this bubble. Realistically, I might travel to Australia later this year, but it will be at least a year and possibly two years before going to the US, and Europe is an option again. New Zealand’s long-term strategy relies on a vaccine and a test of immunity; I will travel when I can prove I am immune and cannot bring COVID into New Zealand. The new reality for me is remote work; I teach AWS courses online for students around New Zealand and Australia. It turns out that being a good trainer in-person prepares you for training online, and I am quite busy teaching courses from home. We are also making the Build Day Live into an online production, with a different format. Watch out for Build Day TV starting soon; video episodes released regularly. Overall, I am quite enjoying the new reality, being at home with my wife every day is nice, sleeping in my bed, and drinking coffee from my espresso machine. I did miss being able to see my daughters, but since we were allowed to restart domestic travel, I have seen both girls. I am missing travel a little, particularly US trips for conferences where I see so many of my friends. Both Pure Storage and Zerto have had their online versions of their live events that I attended in 2019. I didn’t participate in either as I was committed to teaching and could not get up at 1 am NZ time for the event between teaching days. I hope we find better ways to do international online events. Otherwise, my isolation in the New Zealand bubble might leave me cut off from my international friends.
PS We got two new COVID cases in New Zealand yesterday, two travelers who arrived from the UK. Proof that our border protection needs to be tight while the rest of the world has active cases
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