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The U.S. should learn from how New Zealand and Australia have been handling COVID-19.

Partisanship has long been a thorn in the side of U.S. politics. Accusations of undue party bias are tossed around in almost any bureaucratic discussion imaginable. Partisanship has proved no less of an issue in the era of COVID-19, dictating states’ pandemic responses and inciting protests from the left and right. Many seem to see no issue with this constant tug of war, having recognized party tension as an unavoidable default state. However, other nations have managed to come together to combat the novel coronavirus. Australia and New Zealand, in particular, make a compelling case for the effectiveness of a nonpartisan approach to the COVID-19 crisis.

Australia and New Zealand are, of course, separate entities, but an analysis of both provides a helpful picture of similar responses from ideologically disparate leaders. Scott Morrison, prime minister of Australia, is a conservative Christian, while New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, is a member of the Labour party, a center-left organization. Despite their differences, both countries have made it their goal to “vanquish the virus” within their nations and are taking huge strides to make this a reality, according to The New York Times.

The speed and intensity with which Australia and New Zealand have acted are definite points in their favor. Morrison treated the virus as a pandemic beginning Feb. 27, two weeks before the World Health Organization labeled it as such, and he established a response cabinet around the same time. Ardern introduced a nationwide lockdown that went into effect March 25, less than a month after the country’s first case was reported. The leaders had more time than some to watch the virus develop in other nations and used this information to act, swiftly closing their borders and mandating that residents only leave their homes for necessities and medical care.

Morrison and Ardern have also been praised for deferring to the experts, namely scientists and medical professionals, and adjusting their policies as evidence emerges. Australian scientists devised national testing plans early on and shared them with government leaders. The nation’s leadership accepted them and collaborated with scientists to establish local task forces to help gather data. New Zealander Dr. Michael Baker, an epidemiologist and professor of public health, pushed for the goal of elimination of the virus on the island. Ardern accepted this charge and is working toward it, prioritizing mass testing and maintaining levels of lockdown appropriate to different regions.

Perhaps the most effective thing these leaders have done is maintain transparency and trust between themselves, the media and citizens. Both officials communicate with their residents regularly, Morrison over radio and Ardern over Facebook Live. Experts are available for questioning, and new information about the development of the virus is funelled from researchers to leaders who then inform the public. This approach has proved successful, as New Zealanders, known for being somewhat averse to regulation, are cooperating with their centralized government, and politically divided members of Australia’s parliament have largely united in support of COVID-19 measures. Australians’ trust in their government is increasing and Ardern’s approval ratings are notably high, according to The Guardian. Their populations, which both resisted strict anti-viral measures at first, have been willing to collaborate as a result of their trust in leadership.

Australia and New Zealand’s firm approach to COVID-19 has been largely successful. Both have contained the virus, with about 10 cases appearing each day in Australia and only one or two in its island neighbor. Both nations have begun to successfully ease restrictions and hope to open their borders again soon. These nations didn’t ensure a number of cases far fewer than projected or relatively short lockdowns without a cost, of course; there will be social and economic struggles to come. However, Ardern argues for making “large upfront sacrifices” in the hope of avoiding greater loss later, and this strategy appears to be working, according to The Guardian. 

The alacrity and open-mindedness of Australia and New Zealand’s governments are largely responsible for their flattened curves, and their responses wouldn’t have been possible without the agreement of opposite-minded people to work together for the greater good. 

Despite drastic political differences, Australia and New Zealand provide an excellent example of nonpartisan pandemic response based on trust and transparency. Although other nations may not be able to replicate geography or population, the no-nonsense approaches exemplified by conservative and liberal leaders respectively demonstrate that success comes when the general welfare is prioritized above party politics. 

Australia and New Zealand haven’t responded perfectly, nor is there any perfect solution to the COVID-19 crisis. However, a nonpartisan approach has yielded immediate benefits and sown seeds that’ll last longer than the current leadership. Doing away with partisanship, it turns out, not only boosts public approval and faith in democracy — but it might also save thousands of lives. 

Caroline Rose is a freshman undeclared major. Contact Caroline at roseck@dukes.jmu.edu.