Was there a missed opportunity when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the nation directly over this weekend, to opt for a trial lockdown for two days to break the cycle of the spread of coronavirus in New Zealand?
Such a lockdown, even if for a mere 48 hours over the weekend, or it may be for 72 hours if the government had demonstrated a further risk-taking appetite by adding another extra day on Monday, to announce a complete lockdown, to at least break the cycle or delay the speed of the spread of the coronavirus in the community.
Indeed, such an announcement would have been sudden and dramatic, catapulting the businesses, economy, and the nation’s entire public life into grave uncertainty about what to expect in the near future.
It would certainly have been one of the riskiest, uncertain and even a knee-jerk decision in the minds of many New Zealanders that any government would have taken for them in the entire public memory of this nation.
But it certainly would have several potential significant advantages, especially in terms of buying some precious little time in the dramatic spread of the dreaded virus, and building upon NZ’s envious position of relatively lesser numbers of infected people than in comparison to its peers in the western world by imposing a rigorous implementation of forced-isolation across the country.
Have we squandered an opportunity by having a false sense of security in relatively lesser numbers of infections (52 on Saturday, March 21) for fear of taking a highly risky and uncertain decision, purely because the current leadership was averse to lose the goodwill that it is certain to generate by its usual charismatic style of decision-making?
Make no mistake. Prime Minister Ardern is currently leading the nation, in her usual unblemished style of charismatic leadership that she had successfully demonstrated last time when she handled a national-level crisis - almost at the same time last year - the Christchurch terror attack.
There was something charismatic about her leadership then, especially in her extraordinary efforts in reaching out to the nation and sharing every aspect of decision-making and subjecting herself to an incredible level of public scrutiny.
That style of leadership, almost inevitably, generates a sense of empowerment within the general public, who rightly feels, listened-to, and cared for, during the time of crisis and uncertainty, which translates into an undiluted loyalty from one and all.
Prime Minister Ardern had then won hearts, and rightly so, both domestically and internationally, for her unassuming style of leadership in dealing with what was then - the darkest hour in the nation’s history.
One year fast forward, Ms Ardern is again dealing with a national crisis and has already presided over some of the most unprecedented decisions taken by any NZ government, and the crisis is far from over.
Notably, in leading the charge of the government, Ms Ardern is unmistakably demonstrating an exact similar style of charismatic leadership that she had demonstrated at the time of the Christchurch terror attack except that the scope of the current crisis is far bigger and complex than what she had to deal with at the time of the Christchurch terror attack.
Unlike, at the time of the Christchurch terror attack, where the nation had already seen the worst, and the responsibility of the leadership was to ensure social harmony, the current crisis is still far from over. It threatens to destroy almost every aspect of modern Kiwi-life, along with a real threat of mass-causality of precious human lives.
In that respect it is only natural to expect an inquiry if Ms Ardern’s previously demonstrated style of leadership is enough to lead the charge against the dreadful coronavirus pandemic, or does the nation strive for more, at such a crucial time in the nation’s history?
A quick review of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership style displayed so far in the war against Coronavirus pandemic is in order.
PM Ardern creating certainty, during uncertain times
Ms Ardern’s address to the nation on Saturday, March 20, had every element of her usual charismatic leadership style where she systematically lays out a clear plan for the public on what to expect in NZ’s collective fight against the global pandemic - thereby creating certainty during these uncertain times.
The level of transparency and forthrightness in Ms Arden’s decision-making and the respect towards the quality of advice that she receives from the health experts and other key stakeholders is unmatched.
In fact, the trajectory of all decisions taken so far clearly demonstrates that Ms Ardern and her government is putting emphasis on clarity and certainty, rather than any disruption, in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
The government is opting for a localised and targeted approach that aims to work in a manner that will create minimal disruption to the larger national life, if possible, by creating a four-level alert-system depending upon the emergence of more cases of coronavirus infection.
The schools have still not been shut down, despite a growing surge of expression from concerned members of the public, especially on social media, for the same.
The rationale put forward in support of that governmental choice clearly points towards the preference of certainty, over any uncertainty that may arise with essential service workers being put off the work due to the additional demand of looking after their children, plus any legitimate threat on the health condition of the elderlies in our communities.
Similarly, any decision of complete lockdown is still being pushed away in the horizon, to avoid any knee-jerk impact on the nation’s economy and social life.
Clearly, the choice of the current leadership is for certainty, over any radical disruption.
However, the question remains, if such a reassuring charismatic leadership will be enough or a more disruptive leadership is required to sail through the current levels of disruption facing New Zealand.
Is a more disruptive style of leadership the need of the hour?
The potential threat that NZ is facing by a rapid escalation of the number of people infected from coronavirus can altogether disrupt the social and economic life of the nation.
In the last one week from March 14, when the total number of infected people from coronavirus was 6, there has been a stupendous 11.53 per cent increase to a total of 52 within a week till March 21.
Clearly, as long as we see the current numbers of infected people as mere a linear comparison with other western countries across Europe and America bearing the brunt of the dreadful spread of the virus in the community, which treads in hundreds and thousands, we might be tempted to remain in a false sense of satisfaction.
However, if we choose to compare numbers in per capita terms and population density, then we may comprehend the enormity of our current situation and may realise that NZ is not in a comfortable position at all.
We are already in a danger zone where the virus is out in the community, with limited willingness in taking some radical, disruptive decisions to disrupt the spread of the virus.
A complete lockdown over the weekend would have not only bought some crucial time in delaying the spread of the virus but more importantly tested our collective preparedness and resolve to implement complete lockdown for a sustained period, if god forbid, the nation has to go down that path eventually, as the last known resort of seeing through this unprecedented crisis.
Undoubtedly, it would have been disruptive, much different to the current approach of a “cushioned-controlled-progress” in slowly taking the nation on the path of eventual hardship, in managing this unprecedented crisis of our times.
However, in doing that we are potentially losing precious time and our perceived advantage of low numbers of infected people.
We need to come hard on the spread of the virus, even if it comes down to cause some minimal disruption to our national life, and train a vast mass of citizenry that has no collective memory of such hard times.
Such an uncertain and arduous journey would need disruptive leadership at the top.