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Looking back at lockdowns

Yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of a national state of emergency being declared and the entire country being put into its first ‘Level 4’ lockdown – at 11.59pm – in response to the global covid-19 pandemic.

The move came four days after then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern first introduced New Zealanders to the four-level ‘alert system’ that restricted human contact, travel, and business operations with the aim of preventing the spread of the novel new virus.

With the unveiling of the new system, New Zealand moved immediately into ‘Alert Level 2’, which required people to stay at home as much as possible.

Two days later, with confirmed and ‘probable’ cases of covid-19 now totalling 173, it was announced NZ would move immediately into ‘Alert Level 3’, and then to ‘Level 4’ two days after, allowing people to prepare for staying at home and interacting only with those in their ‘bubble’.

The lockdown meant all businesses – other than those deemed ‘essential’ – had to close, as did educational facilities, although exercising and going to the supermarket and medical appointments were still permitted [as long as ‘social distancing’ rules were observed, of course].

In many ways, this first lockdown and the government’s continued public messaging about the need to observe restrictions as the lockdown dragged on until April 27 was arguably the high-water mark of the government’s covid-19 response – as far as communication goes, anyway.

Panic-buying of bog rolls notwithstanding, the way in which Ardern and co first introduced the new level rules and methodically signalled the coming changes in settings largely ensured there wasn’t a population-wide freakout, while the 1pm televised briefings fronted by Ardern – which swiftly became a daily focal point for a nation of shut-ins – were clear and comforting, without any of the claims of unearned certainty that would increasingly become a feature of the government’s pandemic management approach.

That first NZ lockdown – which included our border being effectively shut down – is still widely considered a success – albeit a temporary one – in that it stabilised the initial virus outbreak and prevented community transmission, something that arguably encouraged other countries [without NZ’s natural advantage of a moat thousands of kilometres wide] to try the same tactic.

What still doesn’t appear to be widely acknowledged about that initial lockdown – and the ones that followed it – was just how truly unprecedented such a move was. Up until then, standard pandemic-management protocols recognised communities respond best to pandemics when government measures are only minimally disruptive. For whatever reason, covid-19 encouraged officials – both here and abroad – to implement restrictive and, at times, arguably coercive policies that hadn’t been attempted before. And there appears to have been little – if any – consideration of the costs versus the benefits of such population-level experiments in disease control.

Although the jury remains out about just how effective various governments’ radical pandemic policies were, there is increasing recognition – overseas at least – of the price that has been, and continues to be, paid for many of them, including school closures [learning loss and rising depression among students] and ‘money printing’ [inflation and a massive transfer of wealth to the already well off].

One gets the impression many New Zealanders would prefer to assume our country had the best lil’ pandemic response in the world and leave it at that. But given the ongoing repercussions many interventions appear to have had, it’s absolutely crucial the inquiry into our pandemic response thoroughly and dispassionately investigates each and every aspect.


  1. A socialist government and one who was a president of NZ SOCIALIST. I think forcing businesses to have their staff vaccinated or NO JOB WAS TOTALLY WRONG. No other members of the public were FORCED TO. If you wanted it that was your choice BUT TO FORCE WORKING PEOPLE WAS TOTALLY WRONG. WE NEED LAWS TO PROTECT WORKERS 🙏 FROM THIS GUN 🔫 TO YOUR HEAD.

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