Archives for category: International

Many medical experts expressed concern about what might happen when restrictions were relaxed and the ecomony reopened. The experience in Europe offers hope that it is possible to restart the economy without triggering a new wave of the COVID.

THE Washington Post reports:

ROME — When Italy ended its lockdown one month ago, Angelo Pan, an infectious-disease doctor, was worried. His hospital, at the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, braced for the possibility that progress against the coronavirus might slow or reverse — and that beds might again become crowded with people struggling to breath.

But that is not what has happened.

In Italy and across most of Europe, countries have restarted their economies and resumed a degree of socializing without visible signs of the dire health consequences forecast by many. Pan’s northern Italian hospital, rather than seeing an uptick, has been able to restore once-paused services and dismantle the intensive care beds added during the emergency.

As of Friday, it hadn’t admitted a coronavirus intensive care patient in 12 days.

It’s amazing that [the virus] has not started back,” said Pan, who leads the infectious-disease unit at the public hospital in Cremona.

Virologists from Milan to Berlin have become much more optimistic about Europe’s ability to manage the pandemic and say that, at least through the summer, the continent might have nothing more than localized and hopefully-containable hot spots.

Europe’s experience, at least so far, suggests that sending children back to school, reopening restaurants and even making way for large outdoor protests does not lead to an inevitable resurgence of the virus.

But scientists also readily admit there’s much they don’t know about the idiosyncrasies of this virus. They are still trying to make sense of why it is behaving as it has in Europe and whether those trends will hold — and what the answers might mean for the rest of the world.

Many disease experts say enduring behavioral changes, from hand-washing to mask-wearing, could by themselves be substantially limiting the spread in Europe. They say the continued ban of large-scale events is probably capping the damage wrought by highly contagious people — the “super-spreaders” who account for much of the transmission.

They also say there’s growing evidence that the virus could be proving seasonal — ebbing based on the temperature or other climactic conditions. Though warmer weather doesn’t stop the virus, it can aid in the fight.

Europeans, heeding warnings that the virus is more transmissible indoors, have adapted their lives accordingly — something easier to do in warmer months. In Rome, the parks and alfresco restaurant tables are full; the tables indoors are empty. 

In Germany, confined indoor gatherings have led to small outbreaks, while outdoor mass demonstrations against the lockdown in several cities — some drawing thousands of people — have not led to obvious consequences.

“There might be [open-air] transmissions occurring but they are rare,” said Dirk Brockmann, a professor at Humboldt University in Berlin who models infectious diseases for Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, the federal agency tasked with disease control.

“When you are in a club and there are hundreds of people dancing and breathing and yelling in a confined space — that’s a whole different ballgame,” Brockmann said.

One contested theory, aired by two Italian doctors this past week, is that the virus has weakened or become less aggressive. Many health officials have pushed back forcefully against that claim, saying there is no peer-reviewed evidence of such changes, and that cases every day are still proving deadly.

Massimo Ciccozzi, head of the molecular epidemiology unit at the Rome-based University Campus Bio-Medico, said his lab would be studying ways the virus may have mutated. But he said there were other reasons serious pneumonias might be developing less frequently — among them, the wider use of new therapies. Other experts have raised the possibility that a younger cohort of people is now being infected.

There is accumulating evidence that the “viral load” is linked to the severity of the infection, and that outdoor summer transmissions could make for a milder disease.

“It’s like a huge, huge puzzle,” Ciccozzi said. “Every day you find a piece.”
All the while, in country after European country, reported daily case numbers have not just leveled off, like in parts of the United States, but continued to plummet.

In Italy, the number of coronavirus patients in ICUs has declined from 4,000, at the peak in early April, to 400; it ticked down every single day of May. In Germany, many contact tracing teams sit idle, without enough new infections to trace. In Belgium, which had been one of the worst-hit countries, hospitals are clearing out, and doctors don’t report any unusual spikes in patients reporting flu-like symptoms.

The advocacy group called Public Funds a Public Schools gathered a useful archive of research studies of vouchers.

The studies were conducted by nonpartisan academic and federal researchers.

The findings are broadly congruent.

Voucher schools are academically inferior to public schools.

Voucher schools divert funding from public schools, which enroll most children.

Voucher programs lack accountability.

The absence of oversight promotes fraud and corruption.

Voucher programs do not help students with disabilities.

Voucher schools are allowed to discriminate against certain groups of students and families.

Voucher programs exacerbate segregation.

Voucher programs don’t work, don’t improve education, and have multiple negative effects.

Jennifer Howse served for many years as the executive director of the March of Dimes, where she played a significant role in shaping public health policy in the nation. I asked her to write about Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization.

She writes:


There was once a US President confronted by a devastating virus, massive economic downturn, public fear, and political divide. In 1938, Franklin Roosevelt rose to leadership, and signed an Executive Order authorizing a ‘national effort to lead, direct, and unify the fight against polio.’ The journey forward to a
safe, effective, and available vaccine is a proud chapter in American history.

Today we have a US President confronted by a devastating virus, massive economic turndown, public fear, and political divide. Failing us as a leader, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order on May 29, 2020 to ‘terminate US membership in the World Health Organization.

His action will have grave consequences at home and abroad.

Consider the vital and life-saving mission of the World Health Organization, created as a UN Agency in 1948, and charged with ‘improving the health of all people’. This has translated to smallpox eradication and reduction of
many more fatal and debilitating diseases such as polio, malaria and HIV-AIDS.

But the WHO works on a far broader scale than infectious disease. It co-ordinates health emergencies (like Ebola response), convenes leaders and experts in medicine and science, maintains the global data base for health outcomes, sets international standards, provides needed training and technical assistance especially to poorer countries, and advocates for improvements in global health outcomes. Termination of US membership means a reduction of millions of dollars to the WHO budget, and represents about 17% of the total budget.

Three consequences of immediate concern are:

-Damage to health services, medical supplies, and assistance to Low Income countries, mainly in Africa and parts of Southeast Asia, where disease burden is the highest in the world. People will die as a result of cutbacks.

-Disruption, delay and setbacks in the global fight against the Covid 19 Pandemic.

-Isolation of the US from vital information and decision-making about health issues which affect our own citizens on a daily basis. New viruses, such as Corona and its variants, will continue to emerge. Close health partnerships between countries are critical to co-ordinated, effective, response.

The President’s terrible decision to leave the WHO, puts each of us at more risk, much like his refusal to wear a mask. Each of us can play a part to reverse the WHO Executive Order, which will become like dust in the wind if we vote to elect a new President in November.

Larry Cuban reposted an article about the reopening of schools in the Netherlands. The article, by educator Linda van Druijten, shows how to prepare for reopening and to implement scientific advice. Schools reopened on May 11.

We can learn how to reopen schools by paying attention to the guidance of medical experts and by watching other nations and seeing what works best.

She begins:

On the first day, we had bubbles. Delicate, transparent bubbles floating across the playground.

Before we had opened, our 432 primary school pupils, our 152 pupils with special educational needs, our parents and all our staff had fears. But we spoke openly about these fears. We spoke as a community about how we would tackle these fears. And as a staff, we came up with creative ideas. Like bubbles.

School would be a very different place when the children returned – for a start, all pupils had to be dropped at the school gate. So, on day one, we brought out a bubble machine. Rather than being upset, or concentrating on the unusual nature of the school, the children looked up, were captivated, and wandered into school without an issue.

If I have one tip from the opening of Dutch schools for my English colleagues, it is: get yourself a bubble machine!

Class sizes had to be cut in half. The youngest children were unable to practice social distancing, and the teachers realized that it was impossible to keep the youngest children from interacting.

In 2013, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Cuba with my partner and two friends. The Obama administration had relaxed restrictions on travel, and we visited as part of a people-to-people program. Our group flew to Miami, then boarded an American Airlines charter jet that brought us in less than an hour to Jose Marti airport in Havana. Many of our fellow passengers were a Cubans carrying large packages of appliances and other hard-to-get goods to their relatives in Cuba.

We traveled with our travel agent, a native Cuban who had fled the island as a child in 1960 (part of the so-called ”Peter Pan” exodus of Cuban children) and was now an American citizen living in New York City. We stayed in a lovely hotel in the center of Havana, where there were few Americans but many European and South American tourists. We visited museums, the homes of artists, and wonderful small restaurants. The Cuban people we met were friendly, welcoming and looking forward to better times, when the decades-long embargo would finally end. My overall impression was that the embargo had impoverished Cuba and cemented the Castro regime, and that the end of the embargo would stimulate small businesses and breathe life into a stagnant economy. In other words, our policy goals for Cuba—to end the dictatorship and revive a market economy—had utterly failed, but would be advanced by ending the embargo.

Cuba is a beautiful and very poor nation. We were lucky to have gone when we did, because Trump has reversed the limited lifting of the embargo by the Obama administration and made the embargo as punitive as possible.

Commonweal published an article By a Cuban scholar describing the effects of the renewed sanctions. Its main effect seems to be further impoverishing the Cuban people. Trump was pandering to Republican Cuban voters in Florida.

After 60 years of embargo and sanctions, don’t you think that it would be clear by now that the punishment has failed to achieve its aim of regime change and serves only to hurt the Cuban people? If we really wanted to free Cuba, we would open relations and encourage commerce and tourism, as we did with Vietnam and Cambodia, which now have booming economies, or did have before the pandemic.

Peter Greene recognizes one of the great education heroes of our age, Dr. Lester Perelman, who retired a few years ago from MIT, where he taught writing. Les Perelman carefully and thoroughly debunked “robograding” of student essays. ETS had a robograder that allegedly graded thousands of essays in a minute or less.

Perelman showed that students could write nonsensical paragraphs containing blatant inaccuracies yet get a high score from the robograder.

Greene points out that Perelman singlehandedly shot down Australia’s plan to adopt robograding for student essays.

Perelman reviewed the Australian writing assessment and summarized how to get a high test score:

Learn a bunch of big spelling words, and throw them in. Don’t worry about meaning, but do worry about spelling them correctly. Repeat the ideas in the prompt often.

Five paragraph essay all the way. Every paragraph should be four sentences; don’t worry about repeating yourself to get there. Start the last paragraph with “In conclusion,” then repeat your thesis from graph #1. Somewhere work in a sentence with the structure “Although x (sentence), y (sentence). (Perelman’s example– Although these instructions are stupid, they will produce a high mark on the NAPLAN essay.)

Use “you” and ask questions. Use connectors like “moreover” or “however.” Start sentences with “In my opinion” or “I believe that” (not for the first or last time, Strunk and White are spinning in their graves). Repeat words and phrases often, and throw in passive voice (whirrrrr). Throw in one or two adjectives next to nouns.

For narrative essays, just steal a story from a movie or tv show– markers are explicitly instructed to ignore that they recognize a story.

And the final and most important rule– never write like this except for essay tests like the NAPLAN.

For his role in junking the Australian fascinating with robograding and helping to undermine its obsession with national testing, Perelman was honored by the New South Wales Teachers Federation as a “Champion of Public Education.”

In his acceptance speech, Perelman said:

Free public education is the cornerstone of a stable democratic and free society.

The main problem with edu-business [for profit entities in education] is that the most important products of education, such as critical thinking and analysis, are both the least tangible and the least profitable. They are expensive both in staffing and in assessment. Edu-business wants to MacDonald-ize education, make it cheap to produce and distribute, highly profitable and with little nutritive value. It wants, like Dickens’ Gradgrind, to focus on relatively unimportant facts and rules that can literally be mechanically taught and mechanically counted. Edu-business values psychometricians over practitioners, testers over teachers, reliability over validity.

Peter Greene observed:

It’s a little long for a t-shirt, but it might be worth the effort.

Garrison Keillor marks an important milestone that reminds us of times when public leaders were intelligent and eloquent:

It was on this day in 1940 that Winston Churchill gave his first speech as prime minister to the House of Commons. He had taken over the job three days earlier. The speech Churchill gave is considered one of his greatest.

He said: “I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.’ We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realized; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, ‘Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.’”

Churchill was a good writer as well as a good speaker. He wrote more than 40 books — histories, biographies, memoirs, and even a novel. He is the only British prime minister who has received the Nobel Prize in literature.

Sweden has tried a radically different approach to the coronavirus. It didn’t close down its economy, life went on as usual, with people still going to bars and restaurants but encouraged to practice social distancing, which some people honor and others don’t. The theory was that the people of Sweden would develop “herd immunity” and escape the ravages of the disease.

But now the chief epidemiologist, who designed the strategy, is horrified by the number of deaths, according to Newsweek. The death rate in Sweden is higher than the death rate in the United States, and considerably higher than in Denmark, Finland, or Norway.

Cases of the novel coronavirus in Sweden have reached at least 23,918, with its death count at 2,941, as of Thursday, according to the latest figures from the country’s health ministry.

“We are starting to near 3,000 deceased, a horrifyingly large number,” noted the chief epidemiologist at Sweden’s public health agency, Anders Tegnell, at a press conference on Wednesday.

Tegnell, who has been leading the country’s COVID-19 response and previously defended the nation’s decision not to impose a lockdown, this week admitted he was “not convinced” the unconventional anti-lockdown strategy was the best option to take….

Tegnell told Aftonbladet the virus posed a minimal risk to children. He reportedly claimed there are nearly no cases among children globally, claiming that those who died following infection had severe underlying health conditions.

Contrary to Tegnell’s claim, while there are fewer confirmed cases among under-18s, there have been several cases among children, including in Sweden. At least 118 confirmed infections among those aged 9 or younger and at least 282 confirmed cases among those aged between 10 and 19 have been reported in Sweden, as of Thursday…

Sweden has, by far, the largest number of cases and fatalities in Scandinavia, compared with its neighbors Denmark, Norway and Finland, which each have 10,281, 7,996 and 5,573 confirmed cases, respectively, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The daily death toll for Sweden is projected to reach potentially as high as nearly 150 by May 11, while up to 1,060 deaths have been projected for this week, according to the latest projection model by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team. The team consists of Imperial College London, the WHO (World Health Organization) Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Modelling within the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis and J-IDEA (Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics).

Yet Sweden is the only infected European country to not issue a strict lockdown, a strategy which aimed to develop “herd immunity” by increasing the number of people exposed to the virus in a bid to avoid a second wave of cases.

But the move has come under criticism by other countries as well as within the nation.

Speaking to Newsweek, a 33-year-old mother based in the city of Lund in southern Sweden, Allyson Plumberg, said: “I don’t think the Swedish response has been adequate. No recommendations for face mask usage in elder care homes (where the bulk of deaths have occurred),” in an email interview.

She added: “Even children with pre-existing medical conditions are not officially considered at-risk for COVID19. It is now well-known that children can become very ill (and even die in rare circumstances) from COVID-19, even without pre-existing conditions. There is still a mandatory school attendance (ages 6-15) for healthy children in Sweden.

“This means healthy teachers are also pressured to continue showing up in the classroom. We now see that teachers have died, and households with in-risk members are more desperate than ever to protect the health of their families.

“Overall, it seems like Sweden avoids adherence to the precautionary principle whenever possible,” she said.

The New York Times has an interesting story today about the varied approaches to reopening schools in Europe. The common threads are testing, smaller classes, and social distancing.

NEUSTRELITZ, Germany — It was Lea Hammermeister’s first day back at school after almost two months at home and she was already preparing for a test.

Not a math or physics test. A coronavirus test — one she would administer herself.

Ms. Hammermeister, a 17-year-old high school junior, entered the tent erected in the schoolyard along with some classmates — all standing six feet apart — and picked up a test kit. She inserted the swab deep into her throat, gagging slightly as instructed, then closed and labeled the sample before returning to class.

It took less than three minutes. The results landed in her inbox overnight. A positive test would require staying home for two weeks. Ms. Hammermeister tested negative. She now wears a green sticker that allows her to move around the school without a mask — until the next test four days later.

“I was very relieved,” she said happily. In addition to feeling safe around her classmates and teachers, who all tested negative, she feels like less of a risk to her grandmother, who eats with the family every day.
The self-administered test at the high school in Neustrelitz, a small town in northern Germany, is one of the more intriguing efforts in Europe as countries embark on a giant experiment in how to reopen schools, which have been shuttered for weeks and which are now being radically transformed by strict hygiene and distancing rules.

Restarting schools is at the core of any plan to restart economies globally. If schools do not reopen, parents cannot go back to work. So how Germany and other countries that have led the way on many fronts handle this stage in the pandemic will provide an essential lesson for the rest of the world.

“Schools are the spine of our societies and economies,” said Henry Tesch, headmaster of the school in northern Germany that is piloting the student tests. “Without schools, parents can’t work and children are being robbed of precious learning time and, ultimately, a piece of their future.”

Countries across Asia have already been making the leap, experimenting with a variety of approaches. In China, students face temperature checks before they can enter schools, and cafeteria tables are outfitted with plastic dividers.

In Sydney, Australia, schools are opening in staggered stages, holding classes one day a week for a quarter of the students from each grade. Hong Kong and Japan are trying similar phased reopenings. In Taiwan, classes have been in session since late February, but assemblies have been canceled and students are ordered to wear masks.

For now, Europe is a patchwork of approaches and timetables — a vast laboratory for how to safely operate an institution that is central to any meaningful resumption of public life.

In Germany, which last week announced that it would reopen most aspects of its economy and allow all students back in coming weeks, class sizes have been cut in half. Hallways have become one-way systems. Breaks are staggered. Teachers wear masks and students are told to dress warmly because windows and doors are kept open for air circulation.

Germany is keeping a wary eye on the rate of virus spread as it moves to reopen.

Germany has been a leader in methodically slowing the spread of the virus and keeping the number of deaths relatively low. But that success is fragile, Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned.

On Saturday, the reproduction factor — the average number of people who get infected by every newly infected person — which the government wants to stay below 1, crept back up to 1.13.

With still so little known about the virus, many experts say mass testing is the only way to avoid the reopening of schools becoming a gamble.

The school in Neustrelitz is still an exception. But by offering everyone from teachers to students free tests twice a week, it is zeroing in on a central question haunting all countries at this stage in the pandemic: Just how infectious are children?

Evidence suggests that children are less likely to become seriously ill from Covid-19 than adults. But small numbers of children have become very sick and some have died, either from the respiratory failure that causes most adult deaths or from a newly recognized syndrome that causes acute inflammation in the heart.

An even greater blind spot is transmission. Children often do not have symptoms, making it less likely that they are tested and harder to see whether or how they spread the virus.

The prospect that schoolchildren, well-documented spreaders of the common flu, might also become super spreaders of the coronavirus, is the central dilemma for countries looking to reopen while avoiding a second wave of deadly infections. It means that school openings could pose real dangers.

“That’s my biggest fear,” said Prof. Michael Hoelscher, head of infectious diseases and tropical medicine at Munich University Hospital, who oversees a household study in Munich that hopes to shed light on transmission inside families.

Manfred Prenzel, a prominent educationalist and member of a panel advising the German government on its reopening, said children represent the most intractable aspect of this pandemic: asymptomatic transmission.

A study published in Germany last week by the country’s best-known virologist and coronavirus expert, found that infected children carried the same amount of the virus as adults, suggesting they might be as infectious as adults.

“In the current situation, we have to warn against an unlimited reopening of schools and nurseries,” concluded the study supervised by Christian Drosten at the Berlin-based Charite hospital.

The Robert Koch Institute of public health, Germany’s equivalent of the C.D.C. in the United States, found that children get infected in roughly equal proportions to adults.

Other studies, including two from China, suggest that children may be less contagious than adults, possibly because they often do not have the symptoms that help spread it, like a cough. Researchers in Iceland and the Netherlands did not identify a single case in which children brought the virus into their homes.

“The evidence is not yet conclusive,” said Richard Pebody, team leader for high threat pathogens at the World Health Organization. His advice on school openings: “Do it very gradually and monitor the ongoing epidemiology very closely.”

That is easier said than done.

For now, Europe’s school openings are as varied as its countries. Denmark opened primary schools and nurseries first, reasoning that young children are the least at risk and the most dependent on parents, who need to return to work. Germany allowed older children back to school first because they are better able to comply with rules on masks and distancing.

France is opening preschools on Monday before phasing in primary and middle school children later in the month. High school students will keep learning remotely for now.

Belgium, Greece and Austria are all resuming lessons for select grades in coming weeks. Sweden never closed its schools but has put in place distancing and hygiene rules. Some hard-hit countries like Spain and Italy are not confident enough to open schools until the fall.

One precondition for any country to open schools, epidemiologists say, is that community transmission rates be at manageable levels.

Early evidence from countries that have led the way in lowering community transmission and opening schools looks hopeful, said Flemming Konradsen, director of the School of Global Health at the University of Copenhagen.

Denmark, after letting younger children back more than three weeks ago, announced last week that the reproduction factor of the virus remained below 1. Older students will be allowed to return to school on Monday.

Germany, Europe’s biggest country, announced last week that all children would see the inside of a classroom again before the summer break after a two-week trial run in high schools had not stopped overall transmission numbers from falling. Officials hope the rise that was reported over the weekend was a blip instead of a sign that the loosening is already reviving the spread of the disease.

Many argue the benefits of opening schools — to economies, parents and the children themselves — far outweigh the costs so long as hygiene rules are put in place. Disadvantaged children in particular suffer from being out, said Sophie Luthe, a social worker at a Berlin high school.

“We have been losing children; they just drop off the radar,” Ms. Luthe said. “School is a control mechanism for everything from learning difficulties to child abuse.”

But teaching in the time of a pandemic comes with a host of challenges: In the high school in Neustrelitz, roughly a third of the teachers are out because they are older or at risk.

There are not enough classrooms to allow all 1,000 students to come to class and still keep six feet apart, which means at most a third can be in school at any one time. Teachers often shuttle between classrooms, teaching two groups at once.

At the same time, the virus is spurring innovation.

Teachers in Denmark have moved a lot of their teaching outdoors. German schools, long behind on digital learning, have seen their technology budgets increase overnight.

“Corona is exposing all our problems,” Mr. Tesch, the headmaster in Neustrelitz, said. “It’s an opportunity to rethink our schools and experiment.”

That’s why he did not hesitate when an old friend, who co-founded a local biotechnology company, offered the school free tests for a pilot. Mr. Tesch said he hoped the testing would allow him to increase class sizes safely and restart activities like sports and the orchestra.

Many experts advocate more testing in schools but so far it remains the exception. Luxembourg, tiny and wealthy, tested all 8,500 of its high school seniors before opening schools to them last Monday.

Some students and teachers in Neustrelitz were skeptical when they first heard that the school would offer voluntary biweekly tests.

“I didn’t want to do it at first,” recalled Kimberly Arndt. “I thought, ‘What if I test positive? I’d be pegged as the girl with corona.’”

The incentive to test is high: A negative result allows students to wash and disinfect hands in bathrooms where lines are much shorter. Corona-negative students do not have to wear masks, either.

Mr. Tesch, the headmaster, acknowledges that his school is able to test only because he was offered free kits. Normally they would cost around 40 euros, or $44, a piece. But the government, he said, should consider paying for similar testing at all schools.

“It’s a lot of money,” he said, “but it’s cheaper than shutting down your economy.”

An article in the National Geographic describes how New Zealand effectively eliminated coronavirus.

New Zealand has had a small number of infections and fewer than two dozen deaths.

Travel journalist Aaron Gulley was in New Zealand when the pandemic was recognized.

He writes:

If there is a bright spot in the global response to the pandemic, it is surely New Zealand. While governments worldwide have vacillated on how to respond and ensuing cases of the virus have soared, New Zealand has set an uncompromising, science-driven example. Though the country didn’t ban travel from China until February 3 (a day after the United States) and its trajectory of new cases looked out of control in mid-March, austerity measures seemingly have brought COVID-19 to heel.

The country began mandatory quarantines for all visitors on March 15, one of the strictest policies in the world at the time, even though there were just six cases nationwide. Just 10 days later, it instituted a complete, countrywide lockdown, including a moratorium on domestic travel. The Level 4 restrictions meant grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, and petrol stations were the only commerce allowed; vehicle travel was restricted; and social interaction was limited to within households.

“We must fight by going hard and going early,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement to the nation on March 14.

My wife and I tumbled into these restrictions unwittingly. She, an editorial photographer, and I, a travel writer, flew to New Zealand for assignments on assurances from the U.S., Kiwi, and Australian governments that no controls were afoot. But between the time we left home and the time we landed, New Zealand enacted quarantines for visitors. Before we could get new tickets home, the country halted all travel completely. Like an estimated 100,000-plus international visitors, we were stuck.

The sudden austerity could have been a cause for panic. But each day, the 39-year-old Ardern, or “Jaz” as she’s popularly known, made clear, concise statements about the situation to the nation, bolstered by a team of scientists and health professionals. A few days after the lockdown, she announced that instead of just slowing the transmission of the virus, New Zealand had set a course of eradicating COVID-19 from its shores, by cutting off the arrival of new cases and choking out existing ones with the restrictions. “We have the opportunity to do something no other country has achieved: elimination of the virus,” said Ardern at one of her daily briefings.

From an outsider’s perspective, the interesting thing about New Zealand is that the country simply got on board. On day one of the lockdown, the streets and highways were empty, the shops were closed, and everyone stayed home. “I think it’s easier for us Kiwis to fall in line because we trust our leaders,” Sue Webster, the owner of the Airbnb where my wife and I holed up for almost four weeks, told me.

The plan seems to have worked. The daily infection rate in the island nation of 4.9 million steadily dropped from a maximum of 146 in late March to just a few cases a day by mid-April. All told, New Zealand reported a high of 1,476 cases and 19 deaths. On April 26, the country experienced a watershed moment when no new COVID-19 cases and no community transmissions were reported for the first time in over six weeks, though seven new cases cropped up by April 30.

Still, the low number of new cases gave the government the confidence to ease its social distancing restrictions to Level 3. On April 28, Ardern pronounced the virus eliminated, later clarifying that “elimination doesn’t mean zero cases… we will have to keep stamping COVID out until there’s a vaccine.”

Collective action. Social discipline. No armed men storming the government offices.

It worked.