Early in the pandemic, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern received lavish praise for her “Zero Covid” policy, says Matthew Lesh in The Daily Telegraph. The Atlantic called her “the most effective leader on the planet”; The Guardian hailed New Zealand, among other “female-led countries”, for keeping deaths low. “Now the magic trick is over.” Despite a 93% vaccination rate, Ardern has responded to the arrival of the relatively mild omicron variant by reimposing draconian restrictions. Household contacts of positive cases have to isolate for as long as 24 days. The lottery for quarantine hotel rooms – the only way expat Kiwis could return home – has been cancelled, and the border “entirely shut”. The PM has even postponed her own wedding, clearly “determined to martyr herself along with the rest of the country”.
All these measures are antithetical to Ardern’s “supposedly open-to-the-world, liberal mantra”. They’re also counterproductive: the insanely long isolation period risks discouraging people from getting tested, and the border closure is preventing hospitals from recruiting much-needed doctors and nurses from abroad. It’s a sad state of affairs. Like China, North Korea and Turkmenistan, New Zealand continues to treat Covid “as some sort of battle between good and evil, where even a single infection is perceived to be a moral failure”. For some reason Ardern still can’t snap out of this absurd mindset – “even as most of the world moves on”.
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