As New Zealand is declared COVID-19 free, It has set a high bar for its counterparts across the world

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Amid rising numbers of positive corona cases post lockdown, good news came from New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden on 8th June, announcing the elimination of coronavirus transmission domestically. Further, they dropped physical distancing restrictions and lifted all containment measures except for border controls. With this, it has become one of the first countries to do so. Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said with humility, “While the job is not done, there is no denying this is a milestone…Thank you, New Zealand,” She also acknowledged, “We are confident we have eliminated the transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now, but elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort.” 

It is interesting that the South Pacific nation of just about five million people is emerging from the pandemic while big countries are still grappling with the virus. New Zealand has reported 1,154 infections and 22 deaths from the disease and now there is no active case left in New Zealand. Meanwhile, commentators did sober assessments and concluded that this is largely because of 75 days of restrictions including about seven weeks of a strict lockdown in New Zealand. 

My own analysis about their handling of COVID crisis in a competent manner is a bit different. In my view, this has become a demonstrative case study for rest of the world because of that country’s political leadership – PM Jacinda Arden and her team. There are three abiding character traits of this leadership in particular that help them to deal successfully with any such crisis with equal determination and prowess. 

The first and uppermost trait is, they manage a crisis very differently. There is a saying which goes, “It’s not what happens to you but how you react to it that matters. Or, our reaction to a situation literally has the power to change the situation itself.” In this light, Jacinda Ardern and her team’s response have always been seminal. Remember, March 15th – 2019 tragedy where 50 people from a community were killed while praying by a terrorist in New Zealand.

Immediately after the shooting and even before the dead could be counted, Jacinda had spoken up and given New Zealanders a language in which to talk about, “ They are us,” she said simply of the dead and wounded. That press conference did set the tone, which her nation and rest of the world followed. At a time, when some of her counterparts in other countries were showing themselves to be opportunistic and endeavouring to divide their people, Jacinda Arden rushed in where angels fear to tread. She was on the ground where massacre perpetrated in no time with the majority of her cabinet and opposition leaders. 

She met the members of the community affected by the tragedy, dressed in their preferred outfit , opened her tribute remark in their religion’s language, held them in her arms as they sobbed and whispered words of condolence. She emphasized trust and values and proved that understanding the problems of people and feeling their pain or showing empathy are the important steps towards resolving an issue or managing a crisis.

The second trait, which is related to the first, is demonstration of decision making and fixing the accountability. New Zealand’s incumbent political leadership has the ability to take the right decision at the right time. After that crisis, PM Jacinda Arden promised to reform the gun laws within 10 days of the shooting carnage. Exactly, on the 10th day of that accident, she announced ban on every semi-automatic weapon used in that dastardly terrorist attack in her country. She also knows the art of empowering her team and delegating tasks to them. Often, while addressing the press, one could notice that she encourages her deputy or other ministers concerned accompanying her to address the press. She takes little more than her share of the blame and little less than her share of credit.

The third and most important trait, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden understands that her job is to serve the people of the nation, who are the main stakeholders and they deserve the answers. Knowing this, she ordered an independent time-bound inquiry to look into whether police and intelligence services could have prevented the Christchurch outrage. Even she raised the red flag by questioning social media giants and sending strong message to them that they are the publishers. They should not run their business with all profit but no responsibility concept. She considerably believes in team work. Often she holds live chats over social media to give people a chance to engage with her government and encourage them to share their ideas.   

She and her team also ensure safety of the weakest member/community of their country. Post-Christchurch episode, Jacinda Arden along with her compatriots, put in all efforts to reassure the affected community that they are safe in their country. PM along with thousands of New Zealanders attended the prayer at the same place where the massacre took place then just a week before. 

Indeed, they have set a very high bar for their counterparts across the world. It is these three traits of Jacinda Arden’s and her colleagues that people of New Zealand can thank them.  

Riyaz Khan

Written by Riyaz Khan

The author is Director at an engineering and IT services company in Hyderabad and a columnist.

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