Global media attacks on Australasian ‘covid strictness’ unfair, says NZ Herald

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ... "Please give Jacinda the respect she deserves." Image: RNZ

Pacific Media Watch newsdesk

New Zealand’s leading daily newspaper today published an editorial exposing the “unfairness” of global media criticism of Australasian responses to covid-19, showing statistics that demonstrate how well the two countries have done.

While Australia has lost 4243 people to covid-19 out of a population of 26 million, New Zealand has lost just 53 people out of a population of 5 million.

The omicron variant outbreak that has devastated many other countries is only just taking a hold in New Zealand with a record 306 community cases reprted today — 216 of them in Auckland.

“Australia’s announced reopening of its borders to vaccinated tourists and other visa holders from February 21 drew the expected foreign media reaction,” said the New Zealand Herald in an editorial headlined “How hard has NZ really gone on covid-19?”

But the newspaper contrasted the saving of lives in Australasia with the global devastation caused by the covid-19 pandemic worldwide with 403 million cases and 5.79 million deaths.

“The BBC noted that ‘Australia has had some of the world’s strictest border controls throughout the coronavirus pandemic’ with the country ‘even banning its own people from leaving the country last year’.

“Reuters said the move ended ‘two years of misery for the tourism sector’ and AFP summarised it as “the rules have stranded nationals overseas, split families, hammered the country’s multibillion-dollar tourist industry, and prompted often bitter debates about Australia’s status as a modern, open and outward-looking nation’.”

Financial costs, not lives saved
The Herald
said that coverage had focused far more on financial costs and Australians stranded overseas than lives saved.

The newspaper cited head of Tourism Australia Phillipa Harrison as saying that Australia had been “a little bit ridiculed” for its border closures and other rules and warning that it could have an impact on its tourism recovery.

“Australia, like New Zealand, has become synonymous with strictness in dealing with the coronavirus. It is a narrative that has taken hold, but is this image fair?” asked the Herald.

Both countries had certainly made the most of their island borders and geographical isolation.

“Australia has a death rate of 163 per million people from covid-19 and New Zealand’s is 11, according to the Worldometer website, The Herald reminded its readers.

“Japan (154), South Korea (134), and Singapore (147) have also done well. Major countries with death rates over 2000 include the US, Brazil, France, the UK, Russia, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Greece.”

Australia’s closures of state borders and Auckland’s lockdown fence had all drawn attention to covid measures in this part of the world, sid the newspaper.

Australasia ‘sticks out’ in pandemic
“It has made Australasia stick out in a pandemic that has been politicised around the world, even though other countries have also used tough requirements.”

The Herald said a time lag between when pandemic events such as variant surged and vaccine rollouts occurred overseas could give the impression other countries had not also been stringent.

“For instance, when New Zealand initially delayed reopening borders, omicron was setting record case numbers overseas and vanquishing delta. France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark are just now starting to ease restrictions but their omicron waves began towards the end of last year.”

On the Oxford Stringency Index, which tracked governments’ coronavirus responses, neither Australia nor New Zealand’s ratings — 55.56 and 62.04 — were out of the ordinary.

“For instance, Canada, Italy, Greece, Germany and France are rated more stringent,” said The Herald.

New Zealand had had vaccination mandates in sectors such as health, education, emergency services, police, and defence.

“In Europe a variety of mandates target specific groups. Germany requires vaccination for the military, in Britain it is compulsory for nursing-home staff. Greece has ordered people aged 60-plus to have it and in Italy people over 50 can be fined if they aren’t vaccinated.

Extensive European border controls
“Austria requires most aged 18 and over to get vaccinated against covid-19.

“European countries have had extensive border and travel requirements. In December, France temporarily banned travellers from Britain and Germany imposed quarantine on them.

“There has also been extensive use of vaccine passports. Ireland had a night-time curfew in December.

“Several European countries have used outdoor mask mandates and required the wearing of specific types of high-quality masks. America’s most populous county of Los Angeles has had a mask mandate for large outdoor events as well as for outdoor spaces at schools and childcare places — on top of indoor mask requirements,” said the newspaper.

“Citizens in other countries have been confronted with huge death counts, infections and long covid. That’s family members and friends lost.

“Kiwi expats have drawn attention to the shortcomings of MIQ, but a new poll shows most voters steady in their views on how the government is performing.

“Once most countries are reconnecting and the pandemic eases, the figures remaining for posterity will show how countries fared in health and overall economic terms.”

Proud of Ardern’s leadership
Among letters to the editor supporting NZ’s MIQ border policies published by the newspaper today, one New Zealander living in Mansfield, Pennsylvania, wrote: “I am proud of the intelligent way [Prime Minister] Jacinda Ardern has dealt with border control during covid-19”.

She added: “Here in the US, the death toll has reached nearly a million. We have been in self-imposed lockdown for nearly two years …

“New Zealanders have never had to live under Trumpism, Hitlerism, PolPotism, or other despotic regimes. Please be worthy of the soldiers, such as the Anzacs, who fought to keep the world safe for democracy. Did they die in vain?

“Please give Jacinda Ardern the respect she deserves.”

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