New Zealand Aims to Avoid Treating Covid-19 Like Flu, Ardern Says

The Wall Street Journal is gathering prominent leaders in business and politics to discuss how CEOs can best navigate the current political and economic climate.


12/8/2021 2:00:00 AM

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern discusses the country's reopening plans and why the Omicron variant isn't a cause for panic, at the WSJCEOCouncil summit

The Wall Street Journal is gathering prominent leaders in business and politics to discuss how CEOs can best navigate the current political and economic climate.

Stephen WrightNew Zealand's shift to living with Covid-19, from its previous zero-cases strategy, doesn't mean treating the virus as casually as influenza, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said."Our preference is to have an environment where we don't treat Covid like the flu," Ms. Ardern told The Wall Street Journal's CEO Council Summit. "You don't go to work and assume your coworker may have Covid."

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Ms. Ardern acknowledged that New Zealand faced a challenge in shifting residents’ mindset toward accepting that Covid-19 would continue to circulate in the community.She said New Zealand had reached out to other countries that have also ended a zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19 to learn about the psychological impact of that change on citizens and found that the transition took an unexpectedly long time.

New Zealand, a remote South Pacific country of around five million people, pursued a strategy of eliminating Covid-19 for a large part of the pandemic that resulted in very low levels of illness compared with other developed nations.New Zealand has had about 12,000 cases of Covid-19 and fewer than 50 deaths from the virus. No cases of the

recently emerged Omicron varianthave been reported in the country so far.Ms.Ardern said the relatively late arrival of Covid-19 in New Zealand meant authorities had a window of opportunity to learn from what was happening in other countries.Key drivers of the decisions for a strict initial lockdown and the continuing border closure were the likelihood that the country's hospitals would have been quickly overwhelmed--even with measures to slow the spread of the virus--and the prospect of a disproportionate toll on Pacific Island peoples and indigenous Maori, she said.

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"Our goal is to continue to keep Covid out of the community as much as possible and with incoming variants," Ms. Ardern said.Isolation for people who test positive for Covid-19 and contact-tracing will remain part of the country's responses, she said.

New Zealand dropped its zero-Covid strategyin early October after a lockdown in Auckland, the largest city, from mid-August failed to extinguish an outbreak of the Delta variant.

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