Reconfiguring the Covid-19 Response

It’s fair to say that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a tough time for us all: a situation which has been mentally challenging, financially difficult, socially straining and much more. Has the response to the New Zealand Government’s lockdown measures to combat Covid-19 been equally as fair though? We think the answer to that is no. From our work with top executive across the country, we have discovered an underlying animosity towards the actions taken by the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and her cabinet – a lot of the reasoning focused on economic issues in the face of low mortality rates: ‘New Zealand’s death toll remains at 21’[1] at the time of writing.


Leadership in the face of Covid-19, then, seems mired in the old adage of damned if you do; damned if you don’t. Whilst the UK Government has been accused of ‘complacency’[2] and their response of ‘highly underestimating’[3] the severity of the situation, Jacinda Ardern’s cabinet has allegedly been too heavy handed with their measures and allowed New Zealand businesses to become ‘sacrificial lambs’[4]. Are either of these stances justified? In the case of the former, there is certainly cause for concern given that the UK ‘now has the highest number of coronavirus deaths in Europe’[5] (as of early May 2020). Given that even Ms Ardern’s rivals are now claiming that ‘no government could have stopped Covid-19 creating huge economic problems’[6], one has to wonder how credible criticisms for the latter really are.

Some critics of New Zealand’s lockdown point to the situation in Australia, whereby the ‘same results controlling infection as New Zealand’[7] were achieved despite the fact that Australia had ‘less lockdown measures and so not as much economic and social impacts’[8] (sic). On the surface, it is easy to see why some see the Australian scenario as preferable, but the fact remains that national lockdowns were still required and imposed in both countries: Australia did not adopt the approach of countries such as the UK and still had its economy disrupted in order to protect social health and welfare.

Some we have spoken to instead question the continued need for restrictive measures. Similar to the case in Germany, the New Zealand Government has found that ‘a competent handling of the crisis in the early stages’[9] has led to a struggle ‘to convince the public of the need for strict adherence to social distancing’[10]. The notion of wanting lockdown measures reduced in order to shift the focus to reinvigorating the economy is a point with which we can empathise given that there have been several days ‘in a row’[11] of late where there have been ‘zero cases’[12] increase in Covid-19 numbers. For a lot of executives we have spoken to who want to see the New Zealand market lift itself from the morass of economic uncertainty, we can sympathise with their frustration; but that doesn’t make the premature returning to life as we knew it the right decision – far from it. Many health professionals have already drawn comparison between lifting lockdown too early and not taking a full course of antibiotics, whereby the associated development of antibiotic resistance can be looked at in the same manner as further waves of Covid-19. Indeed, this has already proven to be the case in China and South Korea: the countries having ‘reimposed lockdowns…after a spike in new infections’[13]. For those considering the effect on the economy of the current lockdown then, it may be worth considering the greater downturn New Zealand would face if a second shutdown had to occur.

If we all have to somewhat – even begrudgingly – accept the New Zealand Government’s course of action over the coming weeks and months, what should be taken away from the situation? Our thoughts are that your mindset should resolve around four ideas:

· Being grateful

· Planning

· Adapting

· Reaching out

As a starting point, why should we be grateful considering the mess not just New Zealand is in, but the whole world? The Covid-19 outbreak, relative to other world pandemics, is relatively small. As sad a loss as it still is to lose 21 persons for what feels like no reason at all, 21 deaths is a miniscule number compared to ‘~8,600 deaths’[14] in New Zealand alone for the 1918 (Spanish flu) pandemic; and an overall world death toll ‘pass[ing] 200,000’[15] is also relatively small in the grand scheme considering that there are ‘400,000 deaths annually from malaria’[16]. Yes, it is difficult not to be pessimistic when you consider death on such a scale and in such an unnecessary capacity, but being grateful for all of the love and positive aspects in your life is certainly a start in finding clarity in these unprecedented times; and such humility is certainly a weapon to help fight both the virus itself and the mental challenges that come with such events.

The idea of profusely planning should be self-explanatory: the more you can plan, the more prepared you are to leverage a positive outcome – whether that’s in a professional or personal capacity. There may be a lot of unforeseen variables given the current Covid-19 context, but planning what you can will both keep you on top of the things you can control as well as helping to give you a sense of direction and purpose in otherwise demoralising times.

As just mentioned, there will be a lot of things that you will be unable to plan for in these unusual circumstances so developing an expectation for change and a willingness to redirect ideas and resources as necessary will make you better prepared for sudden unexpected pitfalls. If circumstances take hold such as – and fingers crossed none of these occurrences happen – extended periods of lockdown, further waves of the virus or severe economic impact to your company, being able to adapt will allow you to weather the storm and make the most of otherwise dire straits.

Everyone needs help in these times so reach out if you need it; and also be a shining light to others by offering them your skills. Executive Solutions has been in a fortunate position during Covid-19 so we felt it our duty to lend a hand in order to assist in safeguarding the wellbeing and livelihood of others. As such, we offered out our Talent Coaching service on a pro bono basis. By asking for help when you need it and by also giving a little back yourself, not only can we give the New Zealand economy the kickstart it needs, we can also maintain the wonderful social aspects of Kiwi business.

In conclusion, our thoughts are this: times are frustrating right now, but lockdown measures and the corresponding alert levels are necessary in order to safeguard our future and to create a positive environment for both New Zealand’s health and economy to flourish. Follow the guidelines and, in the meantime, prepare yourself and your business for the months ahead. Things may be tough, but if you remain grateful, plan ahead, adapt to challenges and reach out for and to provide help, things will only get better.

From everyone at Executive Solutions: we wish you all the best of luck and success for the future as we all continue to beat Covid-19 together.


Citations:


[1] No author, Covid 19 Coronavirus: Two New Cases One Day before Jacinda Ardern, Cabinet Decision on Level 2, nzherald.co.nz, (Auckland: New Zealand Media and Entertainment, 2020).

[2] Jon Henley, ‘Complacent’ UK Draws Global Criticism for Covid-19 Response, theguardian.com, (London: Guardian Media Group, 2020).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Charlotte Graham-McLay, Ardern Accused of Making New Zealand Businesses 'Sacrificial Lambs' in Covid-19 Lockdown, theguardian.com, (London: Guardian Media Group, 2020).

[5] No author, Coronavirus: UK Death Toll Passes Italy to be Highest in Europe, bbc.com, (London: BBC, 2020).

[6] No author, Budget 2020: Paul Goldsmith - If I were National Govt Finance Minister, nzherald.co.nz, (Auckland: New Zealand Media and Entertainment, 2020).

[7] Ian Cutmore, Scott Morrison Says Australia is Doing Better on COVID-19 than New Zealand despite a Less Extreme Lockdown. Is He Correct?, abc.net.au, (Sydney: ABC, 2020).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Philip Oltermann, Fears Grow in Germany of Second Wave of Coronavirus Infections, theguardian.com, (London: Guardian Media Group, 2020).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Amelia Wade, Covid 19 Coronavirus: Zero New cases for Second Day in a Row, nzherald.co.nz, (Auckland: New Zealand Media and Entertainment, 2020).

[12] Ibid.

[13] Linda Givetash et al., New COVID-19 Infections in China, South Korea Raise Alarm over Second Wave, nbcnews.com, (New York: NBC, 2020).

[14] Nick Wilson et al., Remembering the 1918 In­fluenza Pandemic: National Survey of Memorials and Scope for Enhancing Educational Value around Pandemic Preparedness, New Zealand Medical Journal, vol. 130, no. 1465, (Wellington: New Zealand Medical Association, 2017), 53. [15] No author, Covid-19 Global Death Toll Passes 200,000 as Cases Near 3 Million, rnz.co.nz, (Wellington: RNZ, 2020). [16] Ibid.

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