Political leaders around the world, take note of what’s happened in New Zealand. Science can be like chocolate. If you treat it well, make sure that it’s the real stuff, and use it in everything that you do, it can be your ally.
Science played no small part in helping not only New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern win re-election but also her Labour party to win a “thumping majority.” Those are the words used by Helen Sullivan, a reporter for The Guardian, in the following tweet:
One of the dictionary.com definitions of “thumping” is “of, like, or pertaining to a thump,” which is not a very useful definition. The other definition is “strikingly great, immense, exceptional, or impressive; resounding,” as in “that’s a thumping bowl of pasta” or “you really have a thumping number of marmots in your house.” So presumably Sullivan was referring to the resounding victory in the election and not some repeated noise being made.
Here is Ardern’s victory speech, broadcast by Sky News:
Ardern has garnered worldwide recognition in large part based on her and her government’s handling of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. This has been positive recognition and not “oh my goodness, what did that country leader say again” or “why the heck is ‘Lone Ranger’ trending on Twitter” recognition. Rather than use her “gut,” what she happened to feel like that morning, or what she felt would appeal to a particular political base, Ardern and her administration instead implemented pandemic response measures backed by real scientific evidence. Ardern and her administration didn’t blind anyone with science, as that Thomas Dolby song went, but rather opened people’s eyes with science.
A recent publication in Lancet Global Health chronicled the steps that New Zealand took and what then happened to the pandemic there. As the publication described, a lot of the learnings came from countries in East and Southeast Asia such as China, Singapore, and South Korea. Despite being confronted with the Covid-19 coronavirus earlier than the rest of the world, such countries used “combinations of of measures like movement restrictions, physical distancing, hygiene practices, and intensive case and contact detection and management” to better control the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) than countries with more lead time the U.S. and U.K. did. The New Zealand government showed a willingness to learn from such other countries, rather than ridicule them in a high-schoolish manner.
The New Zealand government also understood that the SARS-CoV-2 wasn’t quite the same as the flu or even the pandemic