Leaders around the world have faced the challenge of a lifetime with the coronavirus pandemic. Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, has received ongoing praise for her strategic crisis management. Thanks to many of the decisions made by Prime Minister Ardern, New Zealand officially declared itself “coronavirus free” on June 8.
Ardern’s Surprising Rise to Power
At the age of 37, Ardern became the youngest female world leader after her unlikely election victory in 2017. She is now the leader of New Zealand, the Pacific Island with only 5 million people and few strategic resources.
Early in her career as Prime Minister, Ardern navigated several crises, including a mass shooting at a mosque in Christchurch. Supporters call her a “powerful unifying force” who blends the best components of compassion and science to implement positive leadership.
Facing COVID-19 Head-On
Despite relying largely on tourism revenue, Prime Minister Ardern closed New Zealand’s borders to international travel on March 19, just 19 days after the country’s first confirmed case. “We’re going hard and we’re going early. We only have 102 cases, but so did Italy once,” Ardern said in a briefing to explain her decision for an early and stringent lockdown.
The country implemented a month long stay-at-home order and required all international arrivals to enter a strict two-week quarantine. Economic safeguards were also developed to limit financial suffering. New Zealanders received from the government a percentage of their normal wages in addition to other measures of support.
As a result, the number of coronavirus cases in New Zealand peaked in early April and quickly fell. By late May, only one active COVID-19 case remained. Finally, on June 8, Ardern excitedly announced that her country was officially coronavirus-free. In total, the country reported only 1,500 infections and 22 deaths from the disease.
“Today, I can announce that the Cabinet has agreed that we will now move to Level 1 to get our economy back to normal again. And we will start almost immediately.” However, Ardern warned, “New Zealand is not immune to what is happening in the rest of the world.”
Responding to Threats of COVID’s Return
Only 10 days after celebrating the “elimination” of COVID-19 from New Zealand, Prime Minister Ardern announced an “unacceptable failure” that led to two women, both of whom tested positive after returning from the U.K, being allowed to leave mandatory quarantine for travelers early.
“It never should have happened and it cannot be repeated,” Ardern stated in a briefing. She responded by temporarily removing the compassionate exemption clause that had allowed the women to be released from quarantine while still infected and contagious.
Overall, Prime Minister Ardern has responded to the coronavirus pandemic with swift, decisive actions while also remaining in constant communication with the citizens of her country. Even her political opponents agree she has managed the crisis skillfully.