Best Air Fryer –
For five weeks, Kiwis have endured some of the toughest lockdown conditions anywhere in the world.
The rules were conveyed loudly, clearly and frequently: no socialising with anyone outside your household; no beach swimming or boating; no holidays; no hiking; no children’s playgrounds; no weddings; no funerals; no haircuts, no restaurants – or even Uber Eats.
“Educational” police roadblocks – and in around 500 cases prosecution – faced anyone failing to comply with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s “stay home and save lives” mantra.
Now, the country appears to be on the verge of victory.
This week, health officials announced that infection rates had fallen low enough to hope that the island nation had achieved effective elimination of the disease, and Ms Ardern lifted some – but not all – of the restrictions.
From Tuesday, New Zealanders can visit fast-food outlets, buy takeaway coffee, purchase plants from gardening centres and visit some family members living outside their household.
“I feel like Sir Edmund Hillary at Base Camp ready to attack the mountain,” said Murray Traill, a McDonald’s franchise owner, as he switched on the deep fryer to serve his first customer at 5am.
He is expecting a busy day. Traffic controllers have been hired and police prepared to deal with frustrated customers facing long queues for their first takeaway in weeks.
“I am not sure how much longer we could have kept going,” said Margaret Fullon, a florist in Wellington. “It is really too soon to say if the sales we are now allowed to do under the new conditions will provide enough income. But we have no other choice, and this is better than being completely closed.”
The guidelines are still stricter than most nations’ highest alert level.
Some school gates have been unlocked and classrooms disinfected – but only for children of parents employed in “essential services”.
Shops can resume trading, but customers must phone ahead or go online to make orders, and collect goods from pavements outside shops or have them couriered.
Swimming at local beaches is allowed, but only as long as it’s done near the shoreline, and building and construction workers can pick up their tools but only if they can work apart from colleagues.
Most importantly, families may now hold funerals to bury their loved ones – provided they are attended by no more than 10 people. Initial modelling for the epidemic in New Zealand was dire. Predictions included 14,000 fatalities, two-thirds of the population infected with up to 32,000 needing hospital care, and 4,000 Kiwis potentially needing ventilators.
But the country went into the crisis with several advantages: it has a well developed health service, a population of just five million – smaller than many European capital cities – and a government that had already won the confidence of the public following its handling of the 2019 terrorist attack in Christchurch and the volcanic eruption at White Island.
And its geographic isolation, always problematic in market terms, proved an unexpected blessing.
Knowing that the concept of isolation was woven into the very fabric of Kiwi life, culture, and identity, Ms Ardern moved quickly to lead the country into a total lockdown long before many larger nations with more infections.
It wasn’t without moments of panic. When Ms Ardern imposed the level four lockdown, Kiwis bought enough toilet paper to last several years and alcohol sales went up 1,800 per cent. But by and large Kiwis embraced the restrictions.
And it appears to have paid off.
New Zealand has recorded just 19 deaths and 1,469 cases of Covid-19, of which 1,180 have since recovered. Studies showing new infection rates in the low single digits “give us confidence that we have achieved our goal of elimination”, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Director General of Health, said on Monday, though he cautioned it did not mean it was gone completely. It has won the government praise abroad, with The Atlantic recently dubbing Ms Ardern “the most effective leader on the planet”.
It has played well at home, too. With polls saying 66 per cent of New Zealanders agreed the timing of restrictions being relaxed was “about right”, she will be feeling confident ahead of elections in September.
On the streets there is both pride, as infections continue to fall, and fear for the future.
Many people suggest a lifetime will be what is needed for New Zealand to recover. And even optimists foreshadow a decade of rebuilding the country’s economy.
“We have done brilliantly but it has cost us dearly,” said Richard Miles, 52, a business owner from London now living in Devonport on Auckland’s North Shore. “Little New Zealand cannot afford to go through this again if we don’t get it right the first time.”
Most alarming, he said, was the suggestion that New Zealand’s borders may remain closed for two years, with devastating consequences for the tourist industry. “We can’t afford to open the border but we also can’t afford to close it.”
Tourism, which is worth £19 billion a year to New Zealand’s economy and employs about 230,000 people, has “reduced to zero,” said Stuart Ogden, head of marketing at Fullers360, which operates ferry services throughout New Zealand’s North Island.
Industry leaders are considering promoting domestic tourism and talks are underway with Australia for a bilateral open borders agreement, but a large number of those jobs are likely to be lost. Air New Zealand, the national carrier, is operating at one per cent capacity and is braced to become essentially a domestic airline.
Billions of dollars in wage subsidies have been distributed in an attempt to protect jobs, and more relief is coming. But a poll shows 40 per cent of New Zealanders predict a “prolonged recession”, eight per cent expect a “depression”.
Ms Ardern has called for patience, telling those returning to work this week to go straight home after they clock off and not mingle with friends for dinner and drinks.
“We are opening up the economy, but we’re not opening up people’s social lives,” she said in an address to the nation. “Our marathon will take patience and endurance but we need to finish what we started.
“Think about our local businesses, they need our support. Lives and livelihoods depend on our success as a nation.” Scientists say she is right to be cautious.
“I am very concerned that we might blow it and become complacent and think we have reached the finish,” said Siouxsie Wiles, a former Imperial College London scientist who became one of the public faces of New Zealand’s epidemic response.
“New Zealand is in the best scenario that we could have hoped for but there is more to do. If we come out of this too fast the numbers will rise. I only want to do this once,” she added.