Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (she/her) held such promise. In the spring of 2020, the then 39-year-old New Zealand prime minister emerged on the world stage as the COVID drama’s anti-Trump.
Ardern was calm, we were told, where Trump was capricious, compassionate where Trump was callous, and disciplined where Trump was improvisational. She was, in short, the modern major general of the emerging fascist new world order, and the media swooned.
The New York Times headlined an April 2020 op-ed, “In a Crisis, True Leaders Stand Out: Swift action, compassion and trust in science mark the most effective responses to the coronavirus.”
When the “liberal” Ardern promised “the most significant restrictions on New Zealanders’ movements in modern history,” the Times praised her for her “swift and decisive action.”
The Atlantic outgushed the Times. “Since March, New Zealand has been unique in staking out a national goal of not just flattening the curve of coronavirus cases,” wrote Uri Friedman, “but eliminating the virus altogether. And it is on track to do it.”
Ardern was common sense personified. “She justified severe policies with practical examples,” Friedman continued. “People needed to stay local, because what if they drove off to some remote destination and their car broke down?” OMG!
Added Friedman, “She said she knows as a parent that it’s really hard to avoid playgrounds, but the virus can live on surfaces for 72 hours.” Right… science.
On reviewing the New Zealand COVID timeline, I was reminded of rebel leader Esposito’s speech in the Woody Allen film, Bananas.
“From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish,” Esposito declared. “In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check. Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now…16 years old!”
On March 25, 2020, Ardern outcrazied Esposito, putting the country on complete “Lockdown” status four days before anyone had died of COVID.
On April 25, the country moved from Lockdown status to “Restrict.” On June 8, with the borders closed and no new cases reported, the restrictions were lifted, but on August 11, four new cases surfaced, and once again Ardern put the “Kiwis” on Restrict.
By October 7, the whole country was back to normal, sort of, but on February 14, 2021, three new cases were reported, and it was back to Restrict.
For the next six months, the nation yo-yoed between normal and Restrict. Other than closing New Zealand to the world and treating her citizens like kindergarteners, Ardern’s finger-in-the-dike strategy seemed to be working.