In an insightful virtual interview session, the New Zealand Ambassador to Indonesia, H.E. Jonathan Austin told Alistair Speirs about recent developments in the the country: their fight against the pandemic, lessons to be learned, and future plans.
New Zealand has emerged as one of the best countries in the world to have dealt with the pandemic. What was the strategy there? What were the principle elements that were adopted to make this happen?
I think we’re very lucky in New Zealand. Today, in fact, we’ve gone back to what we call level one, which effectively means normal life with just a few restrictions, such as against large indoor meetings and recommendations to wear masks. But other than that, people can go about their normal life.
The biggest thing that helps us straight away is that we’re an Island and we’re a long way away from anyone else. We have the world’s biggest moat around us, so that that certainly helped, but it’s also true that we closed our borders quite early on. So we were able to contain the virus early.
We also went into a very hard lockdown early on. For four weeks, everybody stayed home, and in that time we were able to get on top of the virus through comprehensive testing and tracing people who had unfortunately become infected. I think being able to nip it in the bud was really important to get us in the situation we’re in.
Now, I think another factor which has really helped in New Zealand is it’s very clear and strong, political and official leadership. Particularly during the early stages of the pandemic, the prime minister appeared in press conferences every day, alongside the director of health. The actions that were taken by the New Zealand government were on the instruction and direction of the director of health.
Health officials made responses, backed up by the rest of government, responding and following to the lead of the minister of the director of health, who is a senior official, and not a political minister. They were a very strong team together delivering very clear and regular guidance to the public every day.
That’s fantastic. Do you think there were any lessons learned that are relevant to Indonesia that you can, or perhaps have already have passed on to Indonesia? Are there things that you’ve learned that could be useful here?
We’ve been very careful in New Zealand not to tell others to do what we did. We recognise that we had a pretty unique situation that allowed us to get on top of this early on.
But I think, the things that I’ve just described had been really important elements in our success. It’s a health led approach. We’re taking advice from health experts and epidemiologists and the politicians are listening to them and doing what they’re told. That’s one of my clear lessons from our experience. And I think the other clear lesson from our experience is having a very clear and united political leadership so that everyone’s on the same page. No one relayed different messages or responded in different ways other than instructed by the director of health.
That’s how we’ve done it. That has worked for us and people are welcome to see what we’ve done, but as I say, not everyone is like New Zealand.
Watch the full video interview below.