New Zealand debates punishing 'rule-breakers' who get COVID

Mass insanity appears to have gripped nearly the entire nation of New Zealand, which has placed its largest city, Auckland, under its fourth lockdown requiring people to stay indoors at home (AKA "house arrest"), this time because one case of COVID was discovered (a second case followed after the lockdown was announced).  The nation's leader, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, is blaming the victim for presumed rule-breaking, on the theory that the spread of a virus can be completely prevented if only people obey their leaders who are imposing radical confinement rules on them.

The Guardian reports:

New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has reprimanded rule-breakers over the recent cluster of coronavirus cases, leading to further restrictions for Auckland.

The city re-entered lockdown with level-three restrictions in place for at least a week from Sunday following the discovery of a community case of unknown origin.

Health officials investigating over the weekend successfully established that the person, known as Case M, had been infected through contact with a family counted among the recent Papatoetoe cluster. (snip)

Under level-three restrictions, everyone in Auckland is asked to stay at home. The rest of the country is operating at level two.

In a must-read Twitter thread, Jordan Schachtel reports and comments on the madness:

Not everyone in New Zealand is happy to cooperate with the latest mass imprisonment, as a later Guardian article reports:

Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand's director general of health, has called on the nation to "not let the virus divide you" amidst frustration with rule-breakers linked to recent coronavirus cases, as well as with the government's response.

Auckland has been in lockdown since Sunday morning as a result of two cases of community transmission, which were found to have happened while level-three restrictions were in place — threatening the fracture the unity of the "team of five million".

P.M. Ardern is taking a much harder line:

At a press briefing on Monday afternoon, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, expressed frustration with lockdown breaches and urged New Zealanders to hold each other to account. Though the decision on whether to prosecute rule-breakers rested with police, she said, the most recent cases were "facing the full judgment of the entire nation".

"No one — in cabinet, no minister, no politician, none of us that I've spoken to — think that this is tolerable," she said. "What has happened here has been a clear breach and everyone is frustrated by it."

Ardern's tone was seen as a marked departure from the compassionate messaging credited with New Zealand's success against the pandemic so far, and has been met with criticism that communities and even individuals are being unfairly singled out.

While I can't claim deep expertise on the New Zealand national psyche, I did do some consulting work there long ago, and I got a strong sense of the mentality common in an island nation, about 1,300 miles from the nearest continent, where everyone seems to know each other, and all have a sense of being set apart from the rest of the world.  New Zealanders call themselves "kiwis" after the flightless bird native to the islands, and they do seem to see themselves as completely different from everyone else, especially Australians, their closest Anglophone neighbors, whose 25 million population seems giant compared to their small nation.

The very idea of isolating itself from the rest of the world, where a highly contagious virus spreads no matter what we do to contain it, must be a product of thinking itself as completely apart, a world unto itself.


Graphic via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

Neither of the Guardian articles linked here explicitly addresses the single biggest demographic divide in New Zealand: between Caucasians and native Maoris and other Pacific islanders such as Samoans, whose economic standing is not at a comparable level.  Caucasians account for over 70% of the population, with Maoris 16.5% and Pacific Islanders 9.0%.  In Auckland, only 43% of the population is of European heritage.  That may account for what is only hinted at by the Guardian here:

Leaders within South Auckland have also criticised the communication with affected communities.

Māori party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer told Stuff that Case M had been "put out there" for the nation's condemnation while others were told, "If you don't behave the police will turn up''.

Greens MP Teanau Tuiono, who grew up in South Auckland, said people failing to follow the rules reflected "policy failures of the people delivering the message". He added: "We've got to get down to the grassroots ... and also I'm mindful there's a massive language diversity in South Auckland."

Manukau councillor Efeso Collins told Radio New Zealand the government needed to work with local organisations and leaders to communicate their coronavirus strategy. "The bureaucrats have to let this go. They will cost us the war if they don't let go of this now. They've got to let go of this power, and trust the community to get the information to our households."

The government has defended its communications strategy, saying it had been working with the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, Te Puni Kōkiri and Office of Ethnic Communities (OEC) to engage with affected communities across cultural or linguistic divides.

Bloomfield also pointed to the high rate of testing of staff and students at Papatoetoe high school at the centre of last month's cluster as evidence that communications had been successful.

South Auckland, as you might infer, is relatively poor, and has a higher level of Polynesian and Maori population than the rest of the city.  In 2008, a columnist in the New Zealand Herald wrote:

The phrase South Auckland frequently appears in the media these days, usually in association with some act of violence or criminality. The juxtaposition is so common that the phrase itself has become a term of pity or abuse.

Race relations in New Zealand are not as idyllic as the scenery there suggests.  When I was working in Auckland, my client's personnel advised me to stay off the streets after dark because roving gangs were attacking Caucasians at the time.

Keep in mind that COVID has a survival rate in the high range of 99%, with only the elderly and those with co-morbidities seriously at risk.  Putting an entire city or nation in virtual imprisonment in the futile hope of arresting a virus seems like madness to me, and yet so terrified of the virus are the kiwis that the two major parties outdo each other in advocating punitive lockdown measures.

With a minority population starting to feel resentment, and perhaps a bit less compliant and with less of a sense of being on "a team of five million," there may be trouble ahead in Auckland, if the P.M. (who is in the capital, Wellington, not Auckland) continues with her harsh approach.