WELLINGTON, New Zealand ( Associated Press) – New Zealand has launched a comprehensive inquiry into whether it made the right decisions in its fight against COVID-19 and how it can better prepare for future pandemics.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that the coronavirus is the biggest threat to the country’s health and economy since World War II. He said now is the right time to examine the government’s response with an independent inquiry at the highest level.
One of the issues discussed will be whether New Zealand adopted the right initial strategy by imposing a strict lockdown and border quarantine controls to try to completely eliminate the virus in the country.
Initially, the zero-tolerance strategy was recognized as a success internationally as New Zealand’s death rate remained well below that of most other countries, and people were able to continue with their normal lives.
But over time, the shortcomings of that approach became apparent as the economic and social costs mounted. Some citizens experienced long delays in returning home due to overburdened quarantine centres.
The government later abandoned that strategy in October 2021, when it proved impossible to contain the new and more infectious variant and people had the opportunity to get vaccinated.
China is one of the few countries that maintains a zero tolerance policy. Experts say the strategy is unsustainable in the long term and China has no exit plan.
The New Zealand Royal Commission of Inquiry will be led by Australian-based epidemiologist and professor Tony Blakely. Starting early next year, they will have 17 months to conduct the investigation and prepare a comprehensive report.
Ardern said it was important to determine whether your response worked to help the country face future pandemics.
“We didn’t have a manual for managing Covid, but as a country, we came together in an extraordinary way and saved lives and livelihoods,” he said.
COVID-19 response minister Ayesha Veral said one reason was that a prescriptive pandemic plan like the flu-based plan the country had before the outbreak of the new disease was not helpful.
“I think the lesson has been learned that just looking at the characteristics of a microbe is not enough,” Veral said. “You must have a very broad vision.”