Does New Zealand provide the UK with post-lockdown hope?

In his first blog, David Shadwell (who recently moved from New Zealand to join Chiene + Tait as our newest Partner) considers how the UK can learn from the NZ approach to removing the lockdown and how we can take some confidence that there is a light at the end of the current COVID-19 tunnel.

 

I’ve just recently returned to the UK, taking up a new role in Edinburgh after living and working as an adviser in New Zealand. The nation, which was my home for nearly a decade, is now providing useful insights into how both individuals and businesses here in the UK might eventually emerge from Covid-19 restrictions.

New Zealand imposed stringent lockdown measures from the end of March, a strategy which seems to have worked as they’ve experienced under 1500 confirmed cases and just 20 deaths from Covid-19. In a similar tone to the UK Government, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has led a cautious programme with a phased lifting of restrictions to reduce the risk of a further outbreak of the pandemic.

New Zealand moved to what is called Alert Level 3 at the end of April, where it will remain until this week when Ms Arden and her cabinet will review its impact, and make further decisions on whether to introduce a further easing of restrictions.

Alert Level 3 requires people to remain within their homes when theyare not at work or school, except when food shopping or exercising. Existing households in self-isolation can, however, be expanded to include other select family members outside of the home, with social distancing measures remaining in place. Isolated and more vulnerable individuals can also get access to carers and other forms of support.

Alert Level 3 allows New Zealanders who were forced to lockdown while away from their families, to now return to live with them but people must remain within their local area, except while travelling to their place of work or school, assuming they’re unable to work or learn from home. Meanwhile recreation restrictions have been eased, but there is still a strong emphasis on local, low-risk activities and exercising either by yourself or with people within your current household.

Unlike the UK, New Zealand schools, nurseries and education centres are now open for children up to and including year 10, with appropriate public health measures put in place, where distance learning is not possible. Young people in the final two years of high school are, however, continuing to learn at home. Under Alert Level 3, New Zealand schools have significantly fewer students on their grounds, with those in attendance required to maintain physical distancing as much as possible. PPE is not mandatory within schools, but any pupil or teacher with health concerns has been ordered to stay at home. Tertiary education continues to be provided online.

Despite the incremental nature of these changes, early signs show a modest return towards normality for New Zealanders. Analysis on 28 April, when Alert Level 3 began, showed traffic volumes increasing by an estimated five percent in Auckland, Tauranga and Hamilton, and by nearly 15% in Wellington compared with the previous week. This suggests more people are returning to their place to work albeit at different speeds across sectors and regions. Encouragingly, there are now more job listings online and more people viewing them. Google mobility data also showed New Zealanders got through five times as many takeaways in the first week of restrictions being eased with McDonalds doubling their average daily burger sales.

While the UK has a long way to go in its own post-pandemic journey, we can take some confidence from what’s happening in New Zealand and the potential to experience a modest yet welcome economic uplift as lockdown restrictions are slowly but steadily lifted.