According to Our World in Data, as of February 25, 2022, cumulative COVID deaths per million in the United States were 14 times higher than in Australia and 259 times higher than in New Zealand. Most of this difference was undoubtedly due to the border controls and internal lockdowns these countries used to keep COVID cases at very low levels for the past two years.
A crude comparison based on cumulative death rates suggests that these policies saved many lives:
But were these restrictive COVID policies justified? Maybe, maybe not. No doubt the policies could have been better designed and implemented. Maybe restrictions should have been rolled back earlier, when Delta hit, although that’s not obviously right, since both countries were ramping up their vaccination campaigns. It’s even conceivable that New Zealand and Australia should have never tried to suppress the virus. In this case many more people would have died, and there would have been greater freedom of movement. The effect on social distancing and economic activity seems uncertain; there would have been more social distancing at some points (due to voluntary efforts to avoid exposure) but less at others (due to the absence of stringent mandates).
We could have a useful discussion about all this, thinking through what different policies would have looked like, how many people would have died, what the social and economic costs would have been, etc.
Or, instead, we could surf over to the Brownstone Institute, and read about how the entire policy regime in New Zealand was a failure because omicron is surging after the population is highly vaccinated. I kid you not:
So how successful has New Zealand been in eliminating COVID in the long term through effective communication, public compliance and early lockdowns?
Well. The numbers speak for themselves.
When the BBC wrote the article explaining New Zealand’s remarkable success in eliminating the virus, they were averaging 1.5 cases each day. It’s now 2,918 cases each day.
That’s an increase of nearly 195,000%.
Elimination is a pipe dream.
. . .
Mask wearing has been consistently high since the mandate came into effect in August, yet cases have exploded anyway.
None of it has mattered.
. . .
New Zealand’s supposed “elimination” through their zero COVID policy has completely collapsed.
Mask mandates, as their own research indicated, have not prevented surges. Elimination until vaccination has not prevented surges. Zero COVID has been an unmitigated failure, as any rational person would have known and suggested as far back as summer 2020.
It’s true that “zero COVID” forever was unrealistic. But suppressing the virus until a vaccine became available was realistic, and in fact succeeded at keeping deaths in New Zealand far below levels experienced in other wealthy democracies. Suppression eventually failed due to some combination of the infectiousness of omicron and relaxation which everyone needs, in case you really need some help relaxing, read this new post about Budpop and its benefits.
This doesn’t mean the original policy was a mistake, given the information and options available earlier. Again, we could try to discuss this – we should discuss it – but instead all we get is dissembling and bad faith.