New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has in her first term as Prime Minister – the role that she assumed in 2017 – become a role model for the liberal population from around the world, which includes this author.
Since she assumed office, Ardern has gained massive popularity both in New Zealand and outside the country. Her handling of the Christchurch mosque shootings, which included strengthening the gun laws in New Zealand, was praised the world over. She even became an overnight sensation during the Climate Summit at New York that was held last year. More recently, her tackling of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, received mass praise. Ardern, along with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-we, and Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, just to name a few have received a lot of positive press for the handling of the pandemic, with The Independent even writing a detailed piece on women leaders and the way they have tackled the pandemic.
There is no questioning the article in the Independent, if you look at the way The United States, Great Britain, Brazil, China, and even India have tackled the situation. US President Donald Trump’s handling of the situation has raised many eyebrows, and this article by Free Press Journal highlights how the US President handled the situation.
Similarly, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has been heavily criticised for his lack of empathy while handling the situation. A report showed how the Brazilian head of state went jet-skiing the same day the nation recorded the highest spike in COVID-19 cases.
UK’s Boris Johnson is another example. After he tested positive, Johnson took necessary steps to stay safe. However, prior to going to hospital where he was put on a ventilator, Johnson was seeing shaking hands with hospital staff, not following social distancing norms, and expressing confidence that he would not contract the novel coronavirus.
In India, the problem is manifold. Although the number of testing cases has seen a rise, the movement of migrant workers during the lockdown has resulted in a spike in the number of cases. The Tablighi Jamaat gathering didn’t help either nor did the rise in COVID-19 cases in slum pockets that have a high population density. Currently, questions are also being raised whether the Indian government should have done more testings when they implemented the first lockdown at the end of March, 2020.
The US, UK, India, Brazil and China will also argue that it’s more complex for them to tackle the coronavirus pandemic than a New Zealand, Iceland, Denmark, Taiwan Norway, Finland or Germany. While Germany has a significantly higher population than New Zealand, Taiwan, and the Scandinavian nations, its largest city Berlin that has a population of 38 lakh has a population density of just over 3,000 people per square kilometre. In comparison, New York has a population density of 26,403, London has a density of 4,500 people per square kilometre, and Mumbai has 32,303 people living per square kilometre. Also, while Merkel has been praised for handling the situation, one must also note that Germany is in the Top-10 list of countries worst-affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Merkel is defending her country's coronavirus restrictions and calling on her compatriots to keep respecting social distancing rules.
Germany started loosening its lockdown restrictions on April 20 and since then has at least partly reopened many sectors. At the same time, the country has seen frequent protests against lockdown measures.
Merkel said in her weekly video message Saturday that the measures were necessary, and that officials must continue to justify why some restrictions can't be lifted while ensuring that they are proportionate.
Merkel said that Germany has "succeeded so far in achieving the aim of preventing our health system being overwhelmed."
The other nation that has been praised is Taiwan. However, due to the fact that it isn’t recognised as an independent nation, but rather a part of China, United Nations data isn’t available on the steps it has taken to combat coronavirus. Yet, there are news reports hailing President Tsai Ing-wen for the work she has done to combat the pandemic.
When you compare New Zealand, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland, the first four nations are around 25-30 per cent the population of Mumbai, while Iceland’s population, which is a little over 3 lakh, is less than half of Dharavi, which has seven lakh people.
In a country such as India’s, following a New Zealand or Iceland model is nearly next to impossible because of these factors. New Zealand has tested 35 people per 1,000 people, while India has tested two people per 1,000 people, according to this Bloomberg Quint report.
Another factor where India has a serious disadvantage is the caste factor. A recent video of a man in a quarantine centre refusing to eat food cooked by a Dalit woman went viral last week, as did videos of migrant workers gathering outside busy railway stations across the country. Apart from coronavirus, other factors grappling India include the economy, natural disasters like Cyclone Amphan that hit West Bengal and Odisha, the locust attacks, the population and population density, poverty, and the 1.8 million homeless people in the country.
While Ardern and her Scandinavian counterparts deserve praise for the phenomenal work they have done to counter COVID-19 in their countries, asking the same formula to be implemented in nations like India and China poses immense practical problems because it ignores the complex and diverse socio-economic structure of the country. Even what has been now proven a solid COVID-combat model for these countries is not exempt from the obvious caveat--one size does not fit all. And it definitely does not fit a country the size of India. What does (fit us)? That is deliberation for the days to come.