Media Release: NZ can look to East Asia to prepare for next pandemic

Media Release
25 May, 2020

Wellington 25 May 2020 - To prepare for the next virus pandemic, New Zealand has plenty to learn from the successes of three East Asian states, according to a summary report from The New Zealand Initiative.

Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan all successfully “flattened the epidemiological curve” early in their Covid-19 pandemic responses. They managed to do this while keeping their domestic economies mostly open.

Since the Initiative wrote its company profiles on the East Asian states back in April, both South Korea and Singapore were hit with new outbreaks of Covid-19. Taiwan, however, appears to be on top of its virus containment strategy.

Author Leonard Hong recognises the importance of these fresh outbreaks in Singapore and South Korea but says they do not negate the robust preparations set up by the two Governments.

Indeed, the speed at which both countries managed to supress and control the new outbreaks reinforces the high-quality of their epidemiological infrastructure.

“The latest outbreaks are essentially a second wave, which means their health systems flicked back into ‘stamp-it-out’ mode once again. So far, both countries are showing solid success once more at stopping the new wave of Covid-19 from spreading to the community.

“Given how close these three states are to the initial emergence in Wuhan, China – particularly Taiwan – New Zealand has a lot to learn from them about how to deal with a pandemic,” Hong said.

A key takeaway from the three states is the importance of preparation, and the expectation among elected officials and the permanent government that a future pandemic is not only likely – it is inevitable.

After last decade’s outbreaks of SARS and MERS (two similar virus strains to Covid-19), the Governments of South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan rebuilt their testing, database, tracing and intergovernmental ties to add more efficiency and depth.

This enabled them to move much faster this time around, Hong said.

“Now that New Zealand has experienced its own pandemic, it has a similar momentum to build a world-class health infrastructure to prepare for any future virus problems,” Hong added.

Another factor in the three states’ success was that the Government’s all had a transparent view into exactly how much personal protective equipment (PPE) it had available for medical staff and where their citizens were most vulnerable.

Hong said they were able to achieve this by leveraging a nation-wide digital database which stored citizen’s medical histories and even travel records.

New Zealand’s nervousness about who has access to their digital data may be an obstacle for similar procedures here, he said, but a safe and privacy-focused Government programme could be created.

“Kiwis have a lot of work to do to prepare for the next pandemic. And New Zealand will have to rethink how it allocates resources to build a more robust epidemiological programme,” Hong said.

“But by forging deeper cooperation with like-minded and successful neighbours – Australia, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore – it can take the emerging opportunity to set up defences.”

Stay in the loop: Subscribe to updates