Speed Reads

the coronavirus crisis

How New Zealand got to victory on coronavirus and Japan slid backwards

Some 400,000 New Zealanders returned to work Tuesday, surfers jumped back in the waves, and some children returned to school after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern lifted the country's coronavirus lockdown to Level 3, from Level 4. "There is no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand, we have won that battle," Ardern announced Monday. "But we must remain vigilant if we are to keep it that way." New Zealand's director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, said the small number of new cases — three on Tuesday, five Monday, none Sunday — "does give us confidence that we have achieved our goal of elimination."

After New Zealand's first COVID-19 case was detected Feb. 28, Ardern quickly shut down travel and she put the country on lockdown March 23. Now New Zealand has 1,472 confirmed and probable cases and 19 deaths, in a country of 5 million.

New Zealand "had some advantages in tackling the virus," including the late arrival of COVID-19 and the fact its "a relatively remote island nation," CNN reports. "But the real key to New Zealand's success appears to be an approach that could be applied anywhere — moving swiftly, testing widely, and relying heavily on good science," including a contact-tracing system that has identified and sequestered all COVID-19 clusters. In a poll last week, 87 percent of Kiwis said they approved of the government's response to the pandemic.

Japan, on the other hand, is warning that its already postponed 2021 Olympics may not happen unless there's a vaccine and its hospitals are at risk of being overrun with a surge in new cases, spread via bars and nightclubs that weren't shut down and during a three-day outdoor celebration of the cherry blossoms in late March, The Washington Post reports.

Japan was slow to ramp-up testing, and the contact-tracing program that had quashed the first outbreak was stymied by Japan's secretive, seamy night life and then overwhelmed by the rapid uptick in cases, the Post reports. "In the middle stood a government and bureaucracy that refused to admit that its initial low-cost strategy was failing." Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency April 7 then extended it to the entire country April 16. Japan now has 13,614 COVID-19 cases and 385 deaths in a country of 126 million, according to Johns Hopkins.