In the age of COVID-19 day after day, we are subjected to visions of the human population fleeing from community. Many of my friends have asked - "how did you in New Zealand avoid the worst of COVID-19?" There is a temptation to reach for the easy answer that most of the world seems to have accepted. "We avoided the worse because we had excellent leadership in the form of our Prime Minister - Jacinda Ardern." Although this answer has superficial correctness, it does not provide a true understanding of New Zealand's success.
A recent article by the BBC goes some way to explaining New Zealand's success in more detail yet it still falls short of a deeper understanding.
The BBC article points out that New Zealand is a country "driven by notions of equality, fairness and honesty." Making the point that “In 1948, New Zealand’s first professor of political science, Leslie Lipson, wrote that if New Zealanders chose to erect a statue like the Statue of Liberty, embodying the nation’s political outlook, it would probably be a Statue of Equality,” he writes. “This reflected New Zealanders’ view that equality (rather than freedom) was the most important political value and the most compelling goal for the society to strive for and protect.”
As a modern-day New Zealander, I can concur that equality is a value that we prioritise - yet it is not the only value nor the most important value that helped us successfully battle COVID-19. New Zealand's battle against COVID-19 was largely won because of our sense of community and the value we place upon caring for our communities. When New Zealanders were told that tens of thousands could die unless we shut down our economy and isolated ourselves - the response was a near-unanimous "let's do this". Yes: we have lost jobs, we have lost income, we have had to separate ourselves from family and friends, we have surrendered our freedom of movement, we have suffered numerous hardships. We did all of this because our community is more important than the individual. The New Zealand population has suffered more economic pain from COVID-19 than other G7 nations "with 42 percent of those surveyed reporting impacted income. That compares to 29 per cent across the other G7 nations". And yet depending on which poll you choose to look at 88-92% of New Zealanders agree with the government actions. (statistics from tvnz.co.nz)
As a nation, New Zealand has prioritised the lives of its citizens over individual freedoms and economic success. Yes- we have had good leadership from both sides of politics. More importantly, we have reacted as a community and not as individuals. We have been prepared to make individual sacrifices for the good of the community. This response to COVID-19 is not communism as some more radical opponents have tried to label it. This response is simply that of a society that cares for one another.
Whilst other nations continue to argue over individual liberties and the requirement to wear masks - they are in fact condemning their neighbours, their friends, and their citizens to unnecessary and pointless deaths. There are those who cry out for the wholesale reopening of their countries claiming that it is some natural right. Claiming that they need to come together in groups as if this is some kind of celebration of community. If you truly care about your communities then follow the science - reduce your contact as much as possible and stop the spread of this virus.
Drawing on my own background in theology I am reminded of Teilhard De Chardin and his views on Christian and human community. We are responsible for unifying the human community, and we must achieve this through spiritual resources, not through material resources, the greatest of these spiritual resources being love.
If we have learnt anything from New Zealand's success in battling COVID-19, it is that we should "Love one another".