COVID-19: Why is the World Singling Out New Zealand for Praise?

This is an Opinion Post. Whether it is in the Business Insider, the Guardian, The Washington Post, Deutsche Welle, Time or the CBC, New Zealand has been widely lauded as the COVID-19 “success story”...
Imagem e Divulgação: Fundação Abrinq

This is an Opinion Post. Whether it is in the Business Insiderthe GuardianThe Washington PostDeutsche WelleTime or the CBC, New Zealand has been widely lauded as the COVID-19 “success story” par excellence. On June 8th, the island nation announced that its last person known to be infected with COVID-19 has recovered. In total, New Zealand (4.8 million inhabitants) has confirmed just 1,157 cases and 22 deaths because of the coronavirus. Although there have been a small number of subsequent quarantine breaches, this success can be traced to three major factors: a harsh lockdowngeographical remoteness, and widespread testing. We do not aim at questioning and belittling the success of New Zealand, yet contend that the international media’s approach of singling out of New Zealand in its analysis of COVID-19 is unfair, dismissive, and problematic. This raises a burning question of why some countries are more newsworthy than others?

The answers to this question can be addressed on two levels

On the one hand, western media bias underlies both a sense of a white savior narrative and structural racism. The embattled Global North – equipped with a powerful media machine – desperately needed some hope and New Zealand managed to offer it. Culturally, New Zealand is closer to the western world than countries in Africa, Middle East or South-East Asia who managed to suppress the virus despite limited resources and the lack of adequate technologies.

ItalyFrance, and the UK have failed and the American President told his citizens to drink bleach. In a New York Times piece, the lack of American leadership during the pandemic was bemoaned, but little or no mention of the countries setting examples actually was made. For instance, only one story by VOX mentioned Jordan as a success story in addition to Iceland, and Slovakia. As a small country with almost double New Zealand’s population, far less wealth and an enormous refugee overload, the Kingdom had 915 cases, 671 recovered, and only 9 deaths. The remaining stories related to Jordan reported on how it flattened the curve.

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In the same vein, only one piece by the American magazine Foreign Policy praised Taiwan, As an island state of 23.8 million people in Southeast Asia located at less than 150 km see route from the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, it has recorded only 443 cases, 431 recovered, and only 7 deaths. It is worth mentioning that Taiwan does not enjoy membership of the WHO. The island relied on its capitalized experiences in fighting the SARS pandemic and has shown a great adaptability in dealing with the COVID-19. The Taiwan case would be a case that can be studied, discussed, and duplicated if it had better media exposure.

That is what success in fighting coronavirus looks like. Instead of having international media outlets amplifying the voices of these successful models, we get romanticized stories of how Germany is an “exception”, all while studiously ignoring the big death toll in it. Iran was covered as if it was a “complete disaster”, and yet the death toll there is almost exactly the same as Germany. While reports from The TelegraphTime MagazineCNN and Ici Radio Canada have all widely lauded the leadership and competence of two white women leaders, Angela Merkel and Jacinda Ardern, they fell short of extolling the achievements of women leaders from the Global South such as President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen and the Tunisian Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nissaf Ben Alaya.

We do not aim at questioning and belittling the success of New Zealand, yet contend that the international media’s approach of singling out of New Zealand

Angela Merkel

ItalyFrance, and the UK have failed and the American President told his citizens to drink bleach. In a New York Times piece, the lack of American leadership during the pandemic was bemoaned, but little or no mention of the countries setting examples actually was made. For instance, only one story by VOX mentioned Jordan as a success story in addition to Iceland, and Slovakia. As a small country with almost double New Zealand’s population, far less wealth and an enormous refugee overload, the Kingdom had 915 cases, 671 recovered, and only 9 deaths. The remaining stories related to Jordan reported on how it flattened the curve.