India and New Zealand: Two tales of Covid-19 with similar lockdown script
March 25 was an important date for India and New Zealand in their fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Both countries enforced one of the strictest coronavirus lockdowns in the world. Today, New Zealand has no active case of Covid-19 while India is among the top five countries.
When India and New Zealand announced total lockdowns, health experts and international agencies applauded the move as both appeared to have taken off the block very early.
India had 519 coronavirus cases when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown. New Zealand had 205 when its Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put the country under lockdown.
Both countries got the first coronavirus patients from China. Both countries repatriated stranded citizens and kept them in institutional quarantine - under military facilities -- in the early weeks of counter-COVID response.
But this is where perhaps the similarities between India and New Zealand's rendezvous with coronavirus ends.
India suspended flight operations from China on January 31, a day after its first case was reported in Kerala. New Zealand banned entry of travellers from China on February 3, 25 days before it recorded its first coronavirus case.
Only citizens and permanent residents of New Zealand were allowed to enter the country from China. Entry for people with a travel history to China was blocked, unless they had spent 14 days in a Covid-free country.
New Zealand sealed its national borders for everyone on March 15. Those entering the country had to stay in the home quarantine for 14 days.
India closed its borders for travelers on March 25. It also prescribed home quarantine for travelers, but unlike New Zealand, it was grossly violated here.
When New Zealand enforced total lockdown, it allowed only grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, and gas stations to open. Vehicular movement was strictly restricted. Social interactions were confined to households.
India too had similar restrictions. But the essential services had a wider ambit in India. Banks continued to function and people continued to visit them regularly.
In fact, some of the largest banks in India made even HR personnel attend the office regularly. It may sound bizarre but banks like the SBI did not defer its promotion and transfer-posting processes.
Local vegetable markets were allowed to open where norms of physical distancing were not adhered to properly. The strictest lockdown of New Zealand remained in force for a full month. In India, relaxations were announced after three weeks on the back of a pressing migrant crisis.
Contrasting outcomes of rather similar lockdown measures were visible by the time India and New Zealand completed one of the months of national lockdown.
New Zealand relaxed its lockdown from level 4 to level 3 on April 27. On April 28, New Zealand had 1,472 cases, India over 31,300. New Zealand managed to keep death count at 19, India had seen nearly 940 deaths due to Covid-19 by then.
Another thing that New Zealand did differently was following the Covid-19 protocol more rigorously. New Zealand achieved one of the highest testing rates per million population in the world.
Having a smaller population as compared to India also helped New Zealand in monitoring its COVID-affected population better.
On June 8, New Zealand discharged its last Covid-19 patient. On that day, India became the fifth worst-affected country with more than 2.67 lakh confirmed cases of Covid-19.