January 28 – New analysis has found that New Zealand has handled the coronavirus pandemic more effectively than any other country in the world.
Australian think tank the Lowy Institute has crunched reams of data to produce a new interactive that assesses the coronavirus response of almost 100 nations.
Researchers tracked COVID-19 case numbers in each country, as well as confirmed deaths and testing rates.
While New Zealand took top spot, it was closely followed by Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand, which were ranked second, third and fourth, respectively.
Australia also performed strongly and was ranked eighth in the world by the Lowy Institute.
The United States has been ravaged by the pandemic and languishes near the bottom of the table, at number 94. Indonesia and India did not perform much better, sitting at numbers 85 and 86, respectively.
Lowy did not rate China’s response to the pandemic, citing a lack of publicly available testing data.
The Institute’s Herve Lemahieu said the interactive showed that smaller countries had typically tackled COVID-19 more effectively than big countries.
“Countries with populations fewer than 10 million people proved more agile, on average, than the majority of their larger counterparts in handling the health emergency,” he told the ABC’s Coronacast podcast.
Several small countries — including Cyprus, Rwanda, Iceland and Latvia — round out the list of top-10 nations.
Mr Lemahieu said the data also disproved the theory that authoritarian regimes had managed the crisis more effectively than democracies.
“Authoritarian regimes, on average, started off better — they were able to mobilise resources faster, and lockdowns came faster,” Mr Lemahieu said.
“But to sustain that over time was more difficult for them.”
In contrast, many democracies initially responded poorly to the pandemic before “improving remarkably” after the first wave.
But some major democratic nations — including the United States and the United Kingdom — then failed to capitalise on that progress because they failed to impose sufficiently strict health measures.
Mr Lemahieu said the countries at the top of the list included liberal democracies, authoritarian and hybrid regimes, but all enjoyed the benefits of effective institutions.
“The dividing line in effective crisis response has not really been about regime type but whether citizens trust their leaders and whether those leaders preside over a competent and effective state,” Mr Lemahieu said.
“And that seems to favour countries with smaller populations, more cohesive societies and more capable institutions.”
He said wealthier countries had typically managed the outbreak more effectively than poorer countries, but then lost their lead by the end of 2020 as infections again surged in places like Europe and North America.
“One of the remarkable findings of this study is that there has been more or less a level playing field between developing and rich countries, because measures needed to stem the virus have been quite low tech,” he said.
But Mr Lemahieu predicted that poorer countries would soon lose ground as they struggled to obtain COVID-19 vaccines for their citizens.
“With the uneven distribution and hoarding of vaccines we may well see rich countries get a decisive upper hand in crisis recovery efforts,” he said.
“The developing world will fall further behind.”