These socialist governments put the UK’s coronavirus response to shame

Are left-wing governments better at handling the Covid-19 crisis?

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Being able to count the number of new Covid-19 cases on one hand seems like a faraway dream for countries like the UK.

For New Zealanders though, it is a reality. While it is a much smaller country than the UK the news was still staggering: on the 27th of April, the country reported just five new Covid-19 cases, and said was ‘currently eliminated’ from its shores. It has justifiably elevated New Zealand to a status of global adoration and envy. 

Announcing that New Zealand had “won the battle” against widespread community transmission, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the nation would continue to hunt down the last few cases. 

Since she came into power in October 2017, NZ Labour’s Jacinda Ardern has advocated putting the wellbeing of citizens before traditional bottom-line measures like productivity and growth. 

Referring to capitalism as a “blatant failure”, Ardern said measures used to gauge economic success “have to change” to take into account “people’s ability to actually have a meaningful life.” 

The desire to put people before the economy has been evident in Ardern’s response to the pandemic. Their lockdown measures were introduced early in a bid to keep cases low.

And with fewer than 1,500 cases recorded and just 19 deaths, according to figures from the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre, New Zealand’s strict preventative measures appear to have been a success. 

Disease elimination 

A major driver in New Zealand’s success was its decision to pursue an elimination strategy rather than the mitigation approach.

In the mitigation approach, stricter interventions were introduced as the pandemic worsened to “flatten the curve.” But in the NZ ‘disease elimination’ approach, strict measures were implemented early on to thwart disease transmission.

Those measures continued for a month and, by doing so, essentially extinguished many chains of Covid-19 transmission. 

This elimination strategy contrasts to the UK’s less decisive response, with the government’s delay in enforcing lockdown slammed as having cost lives. In contrast, the UK’s dithering start has led to a more chaos and deaths.

The preparedness of health systems around the world has been another defining component of the effectiveness of Covid-19 responses. Britain’s health service, which has been drastically underfunded in ten years of crippling Tory-imposed austerity, has been described as being “unprepared for a pandemic” with an insufficient number of beds, equipment and staff being linked to the country’s high number of Covid-19 death rates.

New Zealand’s well-funded healthcare system stands in marked contrast. In 2018, Ardern’s government announced a ‘people’s budget’ which saw billions more dollars put into health and education. The ‘people’s budget’ was focused on rebuilding vital public services, particularly the health care sector.

Portugal’s socialist government Covid-19 response success 

Another relative pandemic ‘success’ story has been Portugal. Despite having third highest population in Europe of 80+ year-olds, Portugal has witnessed the lowest pandemic mortality in Europe.

Like New Zealand, Portugal has had a firmly progressive agenda since its left-wing government came into power in 2015. Unlike elsewhere in Europe, Portugal has reversed austerity policies while overseeing economic growth.  

Since 2015, Portugal has boldly cast austerity aside and has subsequently enjoyed a major economic revival. Similar to New Zealand, the nation’s anti-austerity approach has come at the benefit of the nation’s health service. An international survey into European national health systems conducted in 2017, found that Portugal’s National Health Service ranked higher than many other European nations, including the UK.

Jose Hernandez, assistant professor of sociology and a specialist in social health policies at the University of Cordoba in southern Spain, notes how, with a well performing health service, Portugal was better prepared for a pandemic than many of its European counterparts.

“Portugal’s greater recent investment in public health and a much more centralised health service have all helped, while greater levels of mass tourism in Spain and the high degree of mobility that goes with it could have encouraged the spread of coronavirus,” Hernandez commented.

As well as prioritising funding its healthcare system that would have helped the country be more prepared for a health crisis, like New Zealand, Portugal’s comparative coronavirus response success is pinned on its rapid lockdown response.

Unlike Britain, whose Tory government effectively squandered its “head start” over other European nations, Portugal acted quickly in enforcing restrictions on movement, putting the welfare of its people before economic agendas.

Free of the chains of austerity, and with an clear commitment to prioritise people over the markets, New Zealand and Portugal show what a socialist-inspired Covid response looks like.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a freelance journalist.

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