New Zealand’s triumph, America’s tragedy

Coronavirus Pandemic

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New Zealand was a model example of how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, in comparison to the United State’s major tragedy, with more than half-a-million lives lost to the novel coronavirus. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter
syoes@afro.com

On January 21, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed a resident in Washington state was the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States.

The first American death from the disease came as early as Feb. 6, three days after the Trump administration declared a public health emergency on Feb. 3. However, on Feb. 2, the day before Trump declared a public health emergency, he infamously declared, “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”

That lie began a torrent of lies, misinformation, chaos, deception and in some cases outright lunacy (there was a suggestion that bleach be ingested or injected during a horrifying press conference) that was the hallmark of the Trump administration’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.

By the time Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, more than 405,000 Americans had died from COVID-19. And as of this week there have been more than 29.6 million coronavirus cases and more than 537,000 deaths, the most cases and most deaths of any country in the world.

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 And many experts place the lion’s share of blame on the 45th President of the United States.

“What’s so troubling about this loss of life is it was preventable,” said Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, during an interview with USA Today in January.

“This is an infectious disease we knew how to prevent, and as difficult as it is, far easier to solve than defeating Nazi Germany. And yet, we did not mount a response to wage war against this virus as we have in these other situations.”

Trump is the only American president to preside over more than 400,000 deaths from one event since Woodrow Wilson’s presidency during the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918, that killed about 675,000 Americans and more than 50 million people worldwide.  Further, many experts in the area of infectious disease and the burgeoning threat of global pandemics argue the Trump administration was in many ways the model of what not to do when confronted with a public health crisis.

Alternately, the nation of New Zealand was perhaps the globe’s best example of how to handle the potential onslaught of a pandemic.  As of this week this island nation of five million people in the South Pacific ocean has lost 26 of its citizens to COVID-19. There have been 2,434 cases of COVID and 2,311 recoveries. In the state of Maryland with a population of about six million people (a state that has fared relatively well in its battle against the disease versus the country’s other 49 states), there have been 8,080 deaths as of this week.

 New Zealand’s first COVID-19 case was diagnosed on Feb. 26. By mid-March,  the country switched from a mitigation strategy to an elimination strategy informed by science. And the nation’s leaders led by New Zealand’s President Jacinda Ardern, implemented a strict countrywide lockdown and after five weeks the number of cases plummeted dramatically according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

In early May 2020, the last known COVID-19 case was identified and that person was placed in isolation. By June 8, Ardern declared the pandemic was over in New Zealand 103 days after the first case was identified.

“The worst case scenario is simply intolerable. It would represent the greatest loss of New Zealanders’ lives in our country’s history,” Ardern said as the coronavirus pandemic began to ravage the rest of the world. “I will not take that chance. The government will do all it can to protect you. None of us can do this alone.” And as a result, only 26 New Zelanders lost their lives due to COVID-19, an astonishing accomplishment and testament to their president’s leadership.

Thomas Whalen, an associate professor at Boston University and an expert on the American presidency offered a searing assessment of Trump’s lack of leadership regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

“He has, you could say, blood on his hands,” Whalen said to USA Today. “He knew this was a threat and really did not do what was necessary to respond to it in a thoughtful and resourceful way.”