BE KIND, STAY CALM: Clear messaging
BE KIND, STAY CALM: Clear, simple messaging from government has kept New Zealand cases low, allowing the island nation to crush the COVID-19 curve. Image Credit: Gulf News/Twitter

Dubai: "Be kind, stay calm". That simple phrase captures a rather motherly message out of New Zealand under lockdown. And so far, it has worked brilliantly.

In the beginning of the strict COVID-19 lockdowns in New Zealand, conservative critics condemned Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

They charged her of creating a "nanny state". Now the Kiwis haven't just than flattened the curve.

Experts say the Kiwis have crushed it. Today, New Zealand is dubbed as a model in effectively dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday (April 25), the international media declared New Zealand as the first country in the world to have "eradicated" the disease — after what were initially regarded as confusing comments by the government. As of Friday (April 28, 2020) , the nation of 5 million inhabitants had 1,456 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 17 deaths.

How did they do it?

Wellington under the leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has been credited for its clear messaging. The messaging is followed by pro-active measures, which made compliance by the people easier to digest.

It's fouir-level Alert System offers clear details on movement, recreation, education, work busines, travel, gatherings and staying safe at every level.

The country is now at Level 3, down from Level 4, as part of a gradual exit from the lockdown. Its COVID-19 Alert System is on top of Google search, which shows people keep tabs.

So far, the population has cooperated and adhered to prescribed behaviour and limits corresponding to each level.

Image Credit: Twitter

Expert project the pandemic may be with us for up to two years, in varying degrees of virulence (according to one mathematical model).

How long will the Kiwis keep their lockdown on? How long will the population adhere to the prescribed social distancing measures?

Here's why New Zealand’s pandemic response has worked so far, from the mouth of the Kiwis themselves (or their social media posts):

  1. #BeKind messaging is simple, powerful: Clear, consistent communications across all online/offline media, daily live TV updates
  2. Physical isolation: Being a rather remote island nation, New Zealand was able to close the island — and did it early during the global contagion
  3. Small population: With sheep-to-human population at 6:1 (30 million sheep against 4.88 million human inhabitants), it’s a relatively number to manage
  4. Transparent: Clear lines defining 4 lockdown levels; with clear triggers and enforcement for each level.
  5. Practical: Supermarkets will remain open at every level, with social distancing to be strictly observed. This helped reduce overcrowding at supermarkets etc.
  6. Wealthy: Being a relatively wealthy nation ($39,410 per capital in 2018 PPP), populations are not plunged in dire poverty
  7. Strong sense of community: Kiwis are “in it to win it”, with strong “crush the curve” attitude
  8. Effective leadership: PM Jacinda Ardern took a 20% pay cut during pandemic; able to communicate simple, but clear policy; as well as business “buy-in” to measures
  9. Compliance: High amount of lockdown compliance among the populace; there's also a strong perception of “exceptionalism”, or uniqueness, among the populace
  10. Governance: Having single level of government, decisions are quick and easy. No states or city-level decision making, and a high degree of nationalism

What does 'easing of the lockdown' actually mean?

New Zealand has started to relax its strict lockdown. Residents are able to travel to work, spend more time outside and order takeaway food for the first time in more than four weeks.

The move from Level 4 measures to Level 3 came from PM Ardern. She explained, however, that the downgrade,  comes with a caveat, i.e. that her country had not eradicated COVID-19 but was working towards its elimination.

New Zealand
Rubber hits the road again. The move from Level 4 measures to Level 3 came from PM Ardern. She explained, however, that the downgrade, comes with a caveat, i.e. that her country had not eradicated COVID-19 but was working towards its elimination.

Does 'elimination' of COVID-19 mean zero cases?

On Tuesday (April 26) Ardern said: “Elimination does not mean zero cases, it means zero tolerance for cases.”

Community transmission had ceased, she said, but isolated cases would continue to pop up and would continue “being stamped out” until a vaccine, or therapy was found.

Scientists are feverish working on a vaccine, but any safe and effective jab would is still a long way off — a mass roll-out was thought to be at least a year away.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health, explained: “Elimination (of COVID-19) is not a point in time” but something that would have to be consistently worked on.

“We haven’t eradicated the virus,” Dr Bloomfield said. “But we have achieved what we wanted to achieve in our on-going goal of elimination.”

How do Kiwis treat and fight COVID-19?

Epidemiologists advising the Arden government on the elimination strategy said the virus should be treated like measles.

This means the appearance of any cases, must be treated as "dangerous" and requiring a strong public health response —  including rigorous contact tracing.

When did schools open in New Zealand?

Schools around the country opened on Wednesday (April 27, 2020).

The prime minister said very few children were expected to attend. She advised anyone who could work from home or study from home to do so.

What is the Kiwi "Alert System"?

The Alert System means people can see and plan for the kinds of restrictions they may be required to put in place. This includes increasing or decreasing limits on human contact, travel and business operations.

The Alert System measures may be updated on the basis of:

  • New scientific knowledge about COVID-19, and
  • Information about the effectiveness of intervention measures in New Zealand and elsewhere.

Where do alert levels apply?

The Alert Levels may be applied at different geographical areas, including:

  • town
  • city
  • territorial local authority
  • regional level
  • national level

a town, city, territorial local authority, regional or national level.

New Zealand
Image Credit:

Can different parts of the country have varying alert levels?

Yes. Different parts of the country may be at different Alert Levels. Different areas may also move up and down Alert Levels.

In general, the Alert Levels are "cumulative". For example Alert Level 1 is a base-level response. Always prepare for the next level.

Who are exempted from the Alert System?

At all levels, health services, emergency services, utilities and goods transport, and other essential services, operations and staff, are expected to remain up and running.

Employers in those sectors must continue to meet their health and safety obligations.

What's the role of the police?

The public have an an increased police presence with a focus on prevention, through education and encouragement. Alert Level 4 restrictions are to be enforced, only if required.

At all levels, if there is another emergency, follow normal emergency procedures. Emergency evacuation orders will override COVID-19 Alert System requirements to stay at home.

Alert Level 4 — Lockdown

Meaning: Likely that disease is not contained.

Risk assessment

  • Community transmission is occurring.
  • Widespread outbreaks and new clusters.

Range of measures (applicable locally or nationally)

  • People instructed to stay at home (in their bubble) other than for essential personal movement.
  • Safe recreational activity is allowed in the local area.
  • Travel is severely limited.
  • All gatherings cancelled and all public venues closed.
  • Businesses closed except for essential services, such as supermarkets, pharmacies, clinics, petrol stations, and lifeline utilities.
  • Educational facilities closed.
  • Rationing of supplies and requisitioning of facilities possible.
  • Reprioritisation of healthcare services.

Alert Level 3 — Restrict

Meaning: High risk the disease is not contained.

Risk assessment

  • Community transmission might be happening.
  • New clusters may emerge but can be controlled through testing and contact tracing.

Range of measures (applicable locally or nationally)

  • People instructed to stay home in their bubble other than for essential personal movement — including to go to work, school if they have to or for local recreation.
  • Physical distancing of two metres outside home (including on public transport), or one metre in controlled environments like schools and workplaces.
  • Bubbles must stay within their immediate household bubble, but can expand this to reconnect with close family/whānau, or bring in caregivers, or support isolated people. This extended bubble should remain exclusive.
  • Schools (years 1 to 10) and Early Childhood Education centres can safely open, but will have limited capacity. Children should learn at home if possible.
  • People must work from home unless that is not possible.
  • Businesses can open premises, but cannot physically interact with customers.
  • Low risk local recreation activities are allowed.
  • Public venues are closed. This includes libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, playgrounds, markets.
  • Gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed but only for wedding services, funerals and tangihanga. Physical distancing and public health measures must be maintained.
  • Healthcare services use virtual, non-contact consultations where possible.
  • Inter-regional travel is highly limited to, for example, essential workers, with limited exemptions for others.
  • People at high risk of severe illness (older people and those with existing medical conditions) are encouraged to stay at home where possible, and take additional precautions when leaving home. They may choose to work.
New Zealand
Under Alert Level 3: Measures include physical distancing of two metres outside home (including on public transport), or one metre in controlled environments like schools and workplaces.

Alert Level 2 — Reduce

Meaning: The disease is contained, but the risk of community transmission remains.

Risk assessment

  • Household transmission could be occurring.
  • Single or isolated cluster outbreaks.
  • Range of measures (can be applied locally or nationally)

Range of measures (applicable locally or nationally)

  • Physical distancing of 1 metre outside the home (including on public transport).
  • Gatherings of up to 100 people indoors and 500 outdoors allowed while maintaining physical distancing and contact tracing requirements.
  • Sport and recreation activities are allowed if conditions on gatherings are met, physical distancing is followed and travel is local.
  • Public venues can open but must comply with conditions on gatherings, and undertake public health measures.
  • Health services operate as normally as possible.
  • Most businesses open, and business premises can be open for staff and customers with appropriate measures in place.
  • Alternative ways of working are encouraged, such as remote working, shift-based working, physical distancing, staggering meal breaks, flexible leave.
  • Schools and Early Childhood Education centres open, with distance learning available for those unable to attend school, such as people self-isolating.
  • People advised to avoid non-essential inter-regional travel.
  • People at high risk of severe illness (older people and those with existing medical conditions) are encouraged to stay at home where possible, and take additional precautions when leaving home. They may choose to work.

Alert Level 1 — Prepare

Meaning: The disease is contained in New Zealand.

Risk assessment

  • COVID-19 is uncontrolled overseas.
  • Isolated household transmission could be occurring in New Zealand.

Range of measures (applicable locally or nationally)

  • Border entry measures to minimise risk of importing COVID-19 cases.
  • Intensive testing for COVID-19.
  • Rapid contact tracing of any positive case.
  • Self-isolation and quarantine required.
  • Schools and workplaces open, and must operate safely.
  • Physical distancing encouraged.
  • No restrictions on gatherings.
  • Stay home if you’re sick, report flu-like symptoms.
  • Wash and dry your hands, cough into your elbow, don’t touch your face.
  • No restrictions on domestic transport — avoid public transport or travel if you're sick.

Takeaway from the Kiwi Alert System

The Alert System, communicated well, is simple and easy to understand. Every number corresponds to a certain situation as assessed by authorities, using data from frontliners and upon the advice of (epidemiology) experts.

It can be like a lever, or accordion tool, that can be moved up or down.

Any given number immediately tells people about the measures needed to be taken. Moreover, a localised alert levels enables the implementation of measures specific to a locality or geographical area.

The system can be adopted or upgraded, to be sure. A tailor-made Alert Level out of a lockdown can be fashioned in a way that members of the public, including the business community, understand the terms.

In sum, an Alert System similar to the Kiwis', which effectively guides everyone to be on the same page, is a good starting point.