“The lucky country’ was the title of a book published in 1964 by Donald Horne, used there as a negative description of Australia. It has become an Australian nickname and is generally used favourably about the country, describing its natural resources, weather, distance from other global problems and other sorts of supposed prosperity. However, Horne’s intent was actually to portray Australia’s climb to power and wealth as based on luck, rather than the strength of its political or economic system, which Horne believed was ‘second rate’! He also considered that Australia lacked innovation, ambition and art.
At present, in regard to COVID-19, it is feeling like both New Zealand and Australia are ‘lucky countries’. We had dinner with medic friends this week and I asked what the medical community thought about the current COVID-19 case numbers (hovering between 0 and 1 this week). The reply was that most medics think New Zealand has been very lucky, along with having made a great effort in regard to managing COVID-19. It would seem that Australia has been similar lucky, as their new case numbers have dropped to figures comparable with New Zealand’s, particularly given their population being five times ours. Yesterday (22 May) Australia had 2 new cases and New Zealand had one.
The similar success towards COVID-19 elimination in Australia, following New Zealand, provides additional evidence that the numbers of truly asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 is very low. It is clear that people may test positive for COVID-19 before being symptomatic, but if there truly were lots of asymptomatic spreaders out there in the community it would seem pretty much impossible to contain the virus once present in the community. After all, we all know that human behaviour is not impeccable, no matter what the lockdown rules. Therefore, people have been interacting with one another through our Level 4 and Level 3 Alerts and large numbers of asymptomatic spreaders would result in virus transmission and increased cases. Further, the lockdowns in Australia have previously not been as stringent as those in New Zealand, suggesting that less strict lockdowns can still control COVID-19 if good contract tracing and border control are undertaken. This matter has raised some ire in New Zealand. The business community have felt unfairly shut down and the public have felt they could have been locked down less, to achieve the same results.
So how strict have the New Zealand and Australian lockdowns been in comparison to one another? Oxford University has created a great website where you can compare the severity of countries’ lockdowns over time. Here’s where New Zealand’s Level 4 lockdown sat relative to Australia and the rest of the world on 26 March (NZ is the little blob disappearing off the top of the screen), in Level 3 lockdown on 28 April and Level 2 on 14 May. New Zealand is the little blob disappearing off the top of the severity chart.
Though our Levels 4 and 3 our lockdown was more severe than Australia’s, now at Level 2 we are better off. Australia differed state by state, so the severity index is going to be a generalisation. However, at its most severe, Australia didn’t close down schools and universities (though many chose not to send children to school). Australian businesses could remain open if they could achieve physical distancing; hospitality closed down, other than offering takeaways. Australians could exercise with one other person outside their household (I was particularly jealous of this one!).
The justification for New Zealand going into a more stringent lockdown that Australia was the rate at which our new cases were rising in March. In the week we went to Level 4, our case numbers rose 371%, while Australia’s rose 122%. New Zealand was looking like Italy in terms of the exponential growth of disease, we had a number of large clusters, so it was deemed best that we get on top of COVID-19 fast (Jacinda’s ‘go early and go hard’ statement). We will never know if we could have achieved our current position with less stringency, all we can know is that we are currently better off than Australia in terms of restrictions. Other comparisons include that:
- On May 22nd Australia had 2 new cases while New Zealand had 1 new case comparison of new case rates below).
- Since April 20th Australia have had 30 or fewer new cases each day; the highest number of new cases in that time frame for New Zealand has been 7.
- Australia has had just over 7,000 confirmed cases ( around 252 per million people) and 67 deaths (2.4 per million), New Zealand 1154 cases (around 224 per million people) and 21 deaths (1.9 per million).
- Australia is testing 59 people to find 1 case while New Zealand has to test 65 people.
It looks like New Zealand is slightly ahead in terms of lower case and death rates per capita, but not so much that one might consider it worth an extremely stringent lockdown, given all the other negative effects of lockdown.
The question that everyone will ask next is, will Australia’s economy be in better shape than New Zealand’s? One reason I haven’t written about the New Zealand vs Australia lockdowns previously is that I thought it would be more interesting to see how the results played out. In the same vein, there isn’t so much one can yet say about any country’s economy because there is still a very long game to play. A Wall St Journal article (reported in the Insider) expects the Australian economy to do better over the next 3 months with a 13% shrinkage vs New Zealand at 20%; TVNZ suggests that New Zealand might have a V-shaped recovery and Australia a slower U-shaped recovery. Both articles are highly speculative and lacking in substance, and take me back to my musings about economic recoveries being more like a Nike swoosh. The articles are also so old school in that a shrunken economy is deemed intrinsically a bad thing, no matter that it might result in less destruction of our environment.
We will have to wait to see whether New Zealand or Australia comes out luckier (and whether that can even be identified). However I can provide concrete evidence that our private economy has prospered in the lockdown, in terms of production. We completed our beds and have installed them post lockdown – pictured below. A newly constructed mirror will shortly also be added to the wall, once glassed.
I can also provide evidence that Australians are very good at laughing at themselves.