Coronavirus Eliminated in New Zealand Following Government Response
By Julia Conley
Five weeks after launching an aggressive nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic—coupled with one of the most robust economic relief packages of any country—New Zealand's government on Monday announced that the new coronavirus is currently "eliminated" in the nation.
The country's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday that while cases are not at zero, new cases have been in the single digits for the past several days—an "incredible" statistic, said Ardern, as other countries face thousands of new cases per day.
"We have done what very few countries have been able to do," Ardern said last week as the country was preparing to move from a Level 4 restrictions to Level 3, allowing some businesses to reopen. "We have stopped a wave of devastation."
One new case was reported Monday, as well as four "probable cases" and one new death.
"We've achieved our goal of elimination... That never meant zero but it does mean we know where our cases are coming from," Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said.
As the country reduces restrictions to Level 3, businesses that reopen will be required to maintain physical distancing rules. Schools will reopen with limited capacity, and workers will still be encouraged to work from home if they are able to. Events such as weddings and funerals will only be able to take place with up to 10 people in attendance, and public buildings such as museums, libraries, and gyms will remain shuttered for the time being.
New Zealand has confirmed a total of 1,469 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, since the first case there was detected on February 28.
In New Zealand, home to 4.8 million, the disease has infected about 30 in every 100,000 people and has killed 19 people—fewer than one in every 100,000 people.
The numbers in the island nation contrast sharply with those in the U.S., where nearly one million people have been sickened—nearly 300 in every 100,000—and more than 50,000 people have died.
Ardern has been credited with enforcing a strict lockdown even before the disease had claimed any lives in New Zealand. Two weeks after the first case was reported, the prime minister ordered anyone entering the country to self-quarantine for 14 days. Most businesses shut down on March 23, when there were 102 cases and no deaths, and the country began enforcing Level 4 restrictons—forbidding people to leave home except for outdoor exercise nearby—on March 25.
Ardern's extreme measures were in line with the recommendations of top public health officials, including U.S. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, who said last month that the measures most effective at slowing the outbreak would likely be seen as "too drastic" by many.
New Zealand has also been testing the public at one of the highest rates in the world, Ardern said Monday, administering nearly 124,000 tests in recent weeks with the capacity to complete 8,000 tests per day. The U.S. has increased its testing capacity in the past month, but public health experts say the severe lag in confronting the pandemic in the U.S. after the first case was reported there in January has made the disease difficult to contain.
On social media, observers noted the stark contrast between the two countries' approaches, with government watchdog Public Citizen saying the United States' response has been marked by the "unending incompetence" of the Trump administration.
First coronavirus case in New Zealand: February 28 First coronavirus case in the US: January 20 New Zealand respon… https://t.co/pRdWi8p2yt— Public Citizen (@Public Citizen)1587995668.0
Coronavirus eliminated in New Zealand due to quick and decisive action by the Jacinda Ardern government. #COVID19 https://t.co/nKKsAdWQmY— Sara Nelson (@Sara Nelson)1588001351.0
Meanwhile, we have almost more deaths here than American casualties from the Vietnam war. https://t.co/E6ZwR7eDOb— Molly Jong-Fast🏡 (@Molly Jong-Fast🏡)1587988167.0
New Zealand paired its orders for the country to stay at home for five weeks with a major relief package amounting to about 4% of the country's GDP—a far more significant spending plan than other wealthy countries.
The government covered wages for all New Zealanders who had to self-isolate but couldn't work from home or were caring for sick family members. Businesses were also offered subsidies to continue paying employees, and the government doubled its healthcare spending.
Public health agencies were given resources for contact-tracing to determine who ill people could have potentially spread the disease to, while hospitals received support to increase intensive care units.
"This package is one of the largest in the world on a per capita basis," Grant Robertson, New Zealand's finance minister, said in March as the package was announced.
Meanwhile in the U.S., President Donald Trump has largely left it up to states to determine how to approach lockdowns, and several states have begun reopening their economies—even though the testing rate in the U.S. is lower than New Zealand's and thousands of new cases are being reported per day.
"The earlier and more decisively governments acted, the sooner they can responsibly ease their lockdowns," columnist George Monbiot tweeted. "Unlike New Zealand's and South Korea's, our government dithered and delayed. As a result, we're now in a terrible mess."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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