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Jacinda Ardern wants to eliminate coronavirus in New Zealand. Is she setting herself up to fail?

Ardern opted for the second path. When New Zealand had only reported 28 cases, Ardern closed borders to foreigners, and when there were 102 cases, she announced a nationwide lockdown.

In effect, Ardern offered New Zealanders a deal: put up with some of the toughest rules in the world, and in return, be kept safe — first from the deadly coronavirus, and later, from potential economic devastation.

Then, last week, that changed.

The country reported its first cases of community transmission in three months, forcing the country’s most populous city, Auckland, back under lockdown. The national election was postponed for one of the few times in the country’s history.

Somehow, authorities said, the virus appeared to have crept in through the border. As of Thursday, New Zealand has 101 active cases, bringing the country’s total reported coronavirus cases to 1,304, including 22 deaths.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks with media on August 13, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand.
That prompted outrage from New Zealand’s opposition parties, who questioned whether the government failed to uphold their end of the bargain. “The Government has one job: keep the virus out of our community so we can avoid lockdowns. It has failed and we are all paying the price,” said David Seymour, the leader of right-wing minority party ACT.

Around Asia-Pacific, other countries that entered into similar implicit deals with their citizens are facing similar situations. Australia, for instance, also took swift, tough action at the start of the pandemic — but issues at the border lead to an outbreak in the state of Victoria, prompting the country’s second-biggest city, Melbourne, to return to a lockdown and be placed under a curfew.

Now, as those in Europe go on holiday, people in parts of New Zealand and Australia — two countries that were once held up as examples of how to handle the virus — remain under lockdown. To some, that begs the question: did they take the right approach? And by promising safety, were governments like Ardern’s always setting themselves up to fail?

Inevitable outbreak?

Right from the start, Ardern was clear — she didn’t want to simply limit the impact of coronavirus, she wanted to eliminate it.

Elimination — which the New Zealand health authorities defined as stopping the chains of transmission in the country — was an ambitious goal, and one that few nations adopted.

But Ardern and her government said it was the right one to protect the health of both the public and the economy — and by April, New Zealand announced that it had achieved its goal of eliminating the virus.

For months, New Zealand had no instances of community transmission, but even before the country announced its fresh cases, health authorities and experts were warning that another outbreak was inevitable.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield speaks to media on August 14, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Shortly before New Zealand marked 100 days without any coronavirus transmission, Director-General of Health Dr. Ashley Bloomfield advised people to stock up on face masks.

“I don’t think it’s scaremongering asking ask people to prepare for potential natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis and so on – it’s actually looking after people,” he said on a Facebook Live Q&A session. “This is about being prepared.”
New Zealand was acclaimed a world leader in handling Covid-19. Now it's dealing with a fresh outbreak

For some people, that didn’t really make sense. Only New Zealanders can come into the country, and even then, they must spend 14 days in a state-run quarantine facility and be tested twice for coronavirus. If the borders were secure, then why would a new outbreak be inevitable?

The problem in this case is that the borders weren’t that secure. Authorities have admitted that workers at New Zealand’s border facilities — people who would have been most vulnerable to catching the virus — weren’t being tested on a regular basis.

“I want to acknowledge, at the outset, that testing of staff working at our border has been too slow,” Health Minister Chris Hipkins said Tuesday. “It has not met the very clear expectations of Minister, the decisions that Cabinet has made were not implemented in a timely or a robust manner, and that is disappointing and frustrating.”

But even if the authorities hadn’t made errors, it’s possible to imagine a scenario where an infectious person could slip through the cracks. We know that false negative tests happen, so there’s a very small chance a person could be Covid-19 positive and still be infectious when they are let out into the community after 14 days.

As top scientist Peter Gluckman, former Prime Minister Helen Clark, and former Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe wrote in a paper in July: “As smugglers have known for centuries, border controls are never foolproof.”

What the outbreak means for Ardern

It’s never a good time for a resurgence of coronavirus, but the timing of this latest outbreak is particularly bad for Ardern.

In April, when New Zealand was under its strict lockdown, a survey showed 88% of New Zealanders trusted the government’s pandemic response, state broadcaster TVNZ reported. In the months since, Ardern’s party soared in popularity to well over 50%.

But now, with the election only eight weeks away, Ardern’s opponents have seized on the problems at the border.

On Thursday, Judith Collins, the leader of the main right-wing opposition National Party, launched its own proposed border policy, saying that the government’s “disorderly and confused response” had put the health and livelihoods of 5 million New Zealanders at risk.

Others questioned whether New Zealand’s focus on elimination was the right approach after all.

“Our attempt to eliminate Covid is an obsession that will destroy us,” wrote columnist Damien Grant on the country’s biggest news website, He echoed sentiments that have been rattling around New Zealand for a while — in their paper in July, Gluckman, Clark and Fyfe questioned whether New Zealand could afford to wait out another year or two “in almost total physical isolation.”
“We were told we went hard and early and we stayed longer in lockdown the first time, those additional hard weeks, because we wanted to avoid a yo-yo back into lockdown, and here we are again,” Paul Goldsmith, from the National Party, said Tuesday.
A general view of Chews Lanes ahead of a Covid-19 Alert Level announcement on August 14, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand.

As Goldsmith noted, there isn’t just a health risk in the virus returning — there’s an economic one from a return to lockdown.

Auckland makes up about 40% of New Zealand’s economy, and the country set aside another half a billion New Zealand dollars ($327 million) to help support workers during the city’s current lockdown. Lockdowns also come with other costs — like other countries, New Zealand saw a rise in domestic violence reports during its first nationwide lockdown, national broadcaster Radio New Zealand reported.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delays election over Covid-19

Ardern and her party will try to play up the benefits that have come from their strict handling, even if hasn’t been perfect.

The Prime Minister has consistently said that the best economic strategy is to win the fight against Covid-19. After all, there are costs to letting the virus spiral out of control. An out of control outbreak would have economic impacts anyway, and on top of that, there’s health resources, the cost of a slow recovery from coronavirus, and death.

So far, statistics show that New Zealand’s tough approach hasn’t had a devastating economic cost. Earlier this month, the government reported only 4% unemployment, although the underutilization rate grew from 10.4% to 12%, the largest quarterly rise since 2004.
“What we’re finding internationally is that countries that have control of Covid-19, like China, even if they’re experiencing occasional outbreaks, have stronger economies,” said Dominick Stephens, Westpac NZ’s chief economist, in a video statement last Friday. “Those countries that have lost control of the virus like the United States are seeing economic forecasts constantly revised down and are weaker economically.”
While Ardern’s critics are getting louder, there’s still goodwill toward the Prime Minister and her government — it wasn’t so long ago that New Zealand was the envy of the world. And New Zealand authorities have acted swiftly — a day after the new cases were announced last week, Auckland went into lockdown, and more than 100,000 tests were processed within five days.

But Ardern’s real test is yet to come. When the country heads to the polls in October, she’ll be hoping that, despite the hiccups, the country still thinks her tough coronavirus approach was worth it.

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Turkey warning as hotels ‘fail to follow coronavirus safety guidelines’ with social distancing and mask rules ignored

TURKEY hotels have been caught ignoring safety guidelines and social distancing despite promises of “safe tourism” certificates.

In a bid to encourage tourists to return, hotels and resorts have been signing up to the scheme backed by the government which proves they are following 132 safety measures set out.

Hotels in Turkey are failing to follow new safety guidelines, according to an investigation


Hotels in Turkey are failing to follow new safety guidelines, according to an investigationCredit: Getty Images – Getty

Any hotel with more than 50 rooms must prove they have followed the guidelines to be able to open, with health inspections proving additional cleaning, social distancing and new safety procedures are in place.

However, an investigation by The Times has found many hotels are still failing to follow the new rules.

A five-star hotel which was certified to be following the safe tourism plans failed to enforce social distancing with a busy bar and restaurant despite still not being at full capacity.

Guests were also not wearing masks, with staff being forced to wear them while serving, while other hotels still had shared implements including food tongs at food service stations.

Masks were rarely spotted while in popular tourist areas such as the beach and resorts, or those that did wear them, having them on without covering the mouth or nose.

Beaches and resorts are yet to see British tourists welcomed back in the same number as last year


Beaches and resorts are yet to see British tourists welcomed back in the same number as last yearCredit: Getty Images – Getty

Problems occurred at the airport too, with two-hour tests at Istanbul Airport taking six hours during an arduous process, with little English instruction.

Brits are yet to return in their hoards, however, with the majority of the clientele being Russian and domestic Turkish tourists.

Last year, approximately 2.5m Brits visited, with an average spend of £530 per holiday, as many tourists are known for spending high amounts on boozy trips.

Despite this, UK tourists have failed to return with many instead heading to Spain, a short plane ride away with cheap deals, or staying in the UK for a safer staycation holiday.

Even coronavirus tests at the airport which are meant to take two hours took as long as six hours


Even coronavirus tests at the airport which are meant to take two hours took as long as six hoursCredit: Getty Images – Getty

A couple who went on holiday to Turkey following the lockdown said that while cafes and bars are empty, with additional cleaning taking place, the beaches are still packed with Turkish tourists.

Alex and Stuart Scaum, from Hull, explained: “The beaches were rammed with Turkish people, it was full, we would go but not sit on the beach as it was full.”

However, bargains could also be found, with dinner and beers costing just £12, and warned that local establishments were fearing what it could mean if Brits don’t return soon.

Brits heading to Turkey could find a more expensive holiday, however.

Some parts of the country, including Bodrum, Dalaman and Marmaris, are fining £100 for anyone caught without a face mask on.

Resorts have also raised their prices to try and recoup profits.

A hotel beach bar in Bodrum has been found charging 369 lira (£43) for a doner kebab and 550 lira (£65) to guests who want to swim in the sea.

What you can expect on holiday in Turkey as beaches ban smoking and enforce sunbathing ‘compartments’

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EU states fail on sharing refugees – VoxEurop (English)

A mandatory 2015 scheme to dispatch people seeking international protection from Greece and Italy across the European Union did not deliver promised results, say EU auditors.

Although member states took in some 35,000 people from both countries, the EU auditors say at least 445,000 Eritreans, Iraqis and Syrians may have been potentially eligible in Greece alone.

The lead author of the report, Leo Brincat, told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday (13 November) that another 36,000 could have also been possibly relocated from Italy.

“But when it boils down to the total migrants relocated, you will find 21,999 in the case of Greece and 12,706 in the case of Italy,” he said.

The EU auditors say the migrants relocated at the time represented only around four percent of all the asylum seekers in Italy and around 22 percent in Greece.

Despite being repeatedly billed as a success by the European Commission, the two-year scheme had also caused massive rifts with some member states – leading to EU court battles in Luxembourg.

When it was first launched among interior ministers in late 2015, the mandatory nature of the proposal was forced through by a vote, overturning objections from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

Only last month, the advocate-general at the EU court in Luxembourg had declared the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland likely broke EU law for refusing to take in refugees from the 2015 scheme. While the Czech Republic took 12 people, both Hungary and Poland refused to host anyone at all.

Similar battles have for years played out behind closed doors as legislators grapple with deadlocked internal EU asylum reforms.

The concepts of sharing out asylum seekers, also known as relocation, are at the core of that deadlock.

Politics aside, Brincat’s report honed in on the so-called “temporary emergency relocation scheme” whereby EU states had agreed to take in some 160,000 people from Greece and Italy over a period spanning from September 2015 to September 2017.

Large numbers of people at the time were coming up through the Western Balkans into Hungary and onto Germany, while others were crossing from Turkey onto the Greek islands.

After the EU cut a deal with Turkey early 2016, the set legal target of 160,000 had been reduced to just over 98,000.

When the scheme finally ended in September 2017, only around 35,000 people had been relocated to member states along with Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

“In our view, relocation was really a demonstration of European solidarity and with almost a 100 percent of eligible candidates in Greece and in Italy having been successfully relocated,” a European Commission spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Bottlenecks and other problems

The EU auditors present a different view. They point out Greek and Italian authorities lacked the staff to properly identify people who could have been relocated, resulting in low registrations.

They also say EU states only took in people from Greece who arrived before the deal was cut with Turkey in March 2016.

Another issue was member states had vastly different asylum-recognition rates. For instance, asylum-recognition rates for Afghanis varied from six percent to 98 percent, depending on the member state. Iraqis had similarly variable rates.

Some migrants also simply didn’t trust relocation concept. Others likely baulked at the idea being sent to a country where they had no cultural, language or family ties.

Almost all of the 332 people sent to Lithuania, for example, packed up and left.

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had even poked fun of it in late 2016. He had said asylum seekers from Greece and Italy were hard pressed to relocate to his home country of Luxembourg.

“We found 53 after explaining to them that it was close to Germany. They are no longer there [Luxembourg],” he said.

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