On May 14, both Alberta and New Zealand will move to the next and less stringent stage of physical distancing in the fight against COVID-19.
New Zealand has more people than Alberta (almost 5 million to our 4.4 million), but unlike Alberta, it is now almost free of coronavirus. As of this writing, 74 people are recovering from COVID-19 in New Zealand, only two of them in the hospital. In contrast, 1300 Albertans have COVID-19 and 73 are in the hospital. New Zealand has had 1500 cases in total and 21 deaths. Alberta has had 6,300 cases and 118 deaths
New Zealand’s Phase 4 response to COVID-19, which was a strict lockdown, ran from March 25 to April 28. Its Phase 3 — from April 29 until May 13 — allowed some gatherings and activities to resume. Phase 2, starting on May 14, will include the re-opening of schools, stores, restaurants, and other institutions. If cases reach zero, all controls other than those at the border will be lifted in June.
And so, I dream of New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland. Slightly larger than Edmonton, people there may soon be singing in choirs, enjoying restaurant meals, and attending concerts and sports events.
As long as the new coronavirus exists in countries outside of New Zealand, it will not let its guard down completely. For now, international arrivals will have to quarantine for 14 days, and tourism is unlikely to restart soon, except perhaps between New Zealand and other countries that might soon eliminate the virus — Taiwan (50 cases), China (104 cases), and Australia (600 cases).
Why is New Zealand in better shape than Canada? For one, unlike Canada, it adopted the goal of elimination; and its time of lockdown did not have gaps among repatriated citizens, homeless people, meatpacking plants, indigenous communities, jails, and nursing homes. The lockdown in Canada flattened the curve of COVID-19 infections. The lockdown in New Zealand crushed it.
On Saturday, the death toll in Canada from COVID-19 surpassed that of China’s, where the disease first surfaced in December. China, despite have no time to prepare and a population 30 times greater than Canada, has recorded only 4,000 deaths to our 6,000.
There are many variables and unknowns as the world’s leaders confront the coronavirus. I hope and pray that the lifting of more restrictions in Alberta tomorrow will not lead to an increase in COVID-19 infections. I am disappointed that “normal life” will not resume in Alberta in the foreseeable future. But I am glad that some jurisdictions in Asia and the South Pacific have largely eliminated the new virus; and cheered by the thought that their experiences can help governments elsewhere discover and adopt best practices.
Until the virus is eliminated in Canada, either through public health measures like those in Taiwan and New Zealand or through the discovery and wide-spread use of a vaccine, we will continue to adapt our behaviour to cope with the virus and its health and economic impacts.
As we do so, may our dreams of a healthier and better-managed world help us persevere with hope and determination.