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Armed Conflict Has Forced 661,000 People to Flee Their Homes During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Armed conflict has forced at least 661,000 people around the world to flee their homes during the last two months of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report, as experts say world leaders are failing to protect displaced communities and leaving them more exposed to the impact of the virus.

The Norwegian Refugee Council said Friday that between March 23 and May 15, armed conflict in 19 countries has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, despite a call from the United Nations’ Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire. Chad and Niger, Afghanistan, Syria, and Myanmar were among the countries that saw more than 10,000 people displaced, according to the report. The highest number by far was in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), where more than 480,000 people have been forced to leave their homes due to clashes between armed groups and the country’s military, accounting for 75% of the total number of people displaced worldwide.

While these countries are currently towards the lower end of the global rankings for coronavirus cases and deaths, experts are warning that outbreaks could have potentially catastrophic effects in already unstable states. In Bangladesh’s densely populated Cox’s Bazar, where around 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are currently living, aid organisations have warned that the coronavirus “could spread like wildfire” after the first positive case was confirmed on May 14.

So far, there have been less than 2,000 confirmed cases and 61 deaths due to COVID-19 in DR Congo. And although there are few official cases of the coronavirus outside of the capital Kinshasa, Maureen Philippon, Country Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, says it’s difficult for people in DR Congo not to feel worried when faced with the double crisis of the pandemic and ongoing armed conflict. As several countries around the world have enacted quarantine, lockdown and social distancing measures, the logistics on the ground make in DR Congo have made it near impossible to implement due to lack of shelter, overcrowding and lack of clean water in displacement sites. “People say they are hit twice in a row: first by the conflict making them lose everything, and now by the living conditions that are increasing their risk to the virus,” Philippon tells TIME.

“One of the men we spoke to [in Ituri province] had to flee his village on May 11. He left with $11 in his pocket and nothing else,” Philippon says. Another woman told Philippon that she had left her house for fear of an attack on May 12, and was separated from her husband and two sons in their escape — she has not seen them since. “What she wants is peace. And we are hearing this from many people: they want peace, they want to be able to make a living on their own.”

DR Congo has been the site of ongoing multiple, complex conflicts and human rights abuses since the end of its civil war in 2003, with tensions rising in the central Kasai region since 2016. “Almost each small set of conflicts has its own dynamic, making it difficult to tackle,” says Philippon. The number of challenges, the expanse of Africa’s second largest country and its challenging geographical settings, and a state that struggles to impose its governance have all contributed to the situation today. Over the course of 2019, 1.7 million people in DR Congo were displaced, the second highest country figure behind Syria.

Congolese people are already dealing with multiple public health crises including malaria, cholera and the world’s worst measles epidemic. In April, 6 new cases of the Ebola virus were reported in the country, after an outbreak was declared in August 2018 which has resulted in 2,279 deaths. “The outlook is grim,” says Philippon, emphasizing that DR Congo is home to the second-largest hunger crisis in the world after Yemen.

Hassan Al-Homaidi—NRCAl-Swaidah displacement camp in Yemen, though there is nothing to mark it as such: no running water, no toilets, no electricity. It is home for around 500 displaced families from Marib and Nihm.

More broadly, the coronavirus pandemic has hit the humanitarian sector hard: on Wednesday, Oxfam announced that it would withdraw its operations in 18 countries and lay off nearly a third of staff due to financial pressures. The Norwegian Refugee Council says that the crisis has also reduced access for aid organizations to areas on the ground, making data collection more difficult and therefore the figure of 661,000 displaced people is likely to be an underestimate.

The organizations’s new report comes with an appeal to the United Nations Security Council for stronger leadership, and to issue a clear call to halt hostilities and conflict around the world in order to focus on the pandemic response. “While people are being displaced and killed, powerful members of the UN Security Council squabble like children in a sandbox,” NRC’s Secretary General Jan Egeland said in a statement. “World leaders must rise to the occasion and jointly push parties to cease their fire and unite in protecting all communities from COVID-19. Now is not the time for kindergarten politics.”





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As Relations With U.S. Sink, China Tones Down 'Hotheaded' Nationalism

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For weeks, China fanned nationalist sentiment in its escalating war of words with the Trump administration. Now, it is toning down its message and calling for a truce, as President Donald Trump increasingly makes Beijing a target in his bid for reelection in November.One after another, top Chinese diplomats have called for "peaceful coexistence" with the United States, forgoing their previous assertions that Beijing's authoritarian system is superior. Hawkish scholars are now emphasizing prospects for defusing tensions, instead of urging China to challenge U.S. military might. Journalists at state-run news outlets are limiting their direct attacks on Trump, under instructions to take a more conciliatory approach."There's a reflection that we should not let nationalism or hotheadedness somehow kidnap our foreign policy," Xu Qinduo, a commentator for China Radio International, a state-run broadcaster, said in an interview. "Tough rhetoric should not replace rational diplomacy."In toning down the rhetoric, the ruling Communist Party hopes to reduce the risk that excessive nationalism will hurt Beijing's global image or cause tensions between the superpowers to accelerate uncontrollably. China's ties with the United States are at a perilous juncture now that Trump has made assailing Beijing a focal point of his election campaign, with his administration taking a series of actions against China in rapid succession.Just in recent weeks, the Trump administration has shut down the Chinese consulate in Houston; imposed sanctions on Communist Party officials; said it would cancel the visas of some students and tech company employees; and proposed restrictions on two popular Chinese social media networks. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has traveled abroad urging countries to band together to fight China's "tyranny."Unwilling to concede or look weak, China has responded in kind to most of the measures, closing a consulate in Chengdu and sanctioning U.S. politicians. But in rejecting Pompeo's criticisms, China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, also presented an olive branch, saying the government was ready to discuss all of Washington's concerns "at any level, in any area and at any time."Wang avoided the scathing denunciations that have come to characterize China's "Wolf Warrior" diplomacy, named after an ultrapatriotic Chinese film franchise. Only three weeks earlier, Wang had told his counterpart in Russia that the United States had "lost its mind, morals and credibility."The call for dialogue was repeated by several prominent officials, including Yang Jiechi, China's top diplomat, and Cui Tiankai, the ambassador to the United States, in recent days. On Wednesday, Le Yucheng, another senior Chinese diplomat, accused U.S. politicians of telling lies to smear China. But he also said the two countries should work to prevent relations from "spiraling out of control" over the next several months."The change is that the United States keeps attacking, and if China keeps countering, and also stops communicating while simply following along irrationally, it will probably only make the relationship worse," said Song Guoyou, an American studies expert at Fudan University in Shanghai, describing the shift in diplomatic strategy."China may be indeed sending this kind of signal intensively to the United States, saying it hopes to work with it the U.S. on issues calmly," Song said.The campaign for restraint also appears to be aimed, in part, at signaling to Trump's Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, and others in the United States that China still sees a friendly path forward. While Chinese officials believe Biden is less volatile and caustic than Trump, many also worry that he would continue to push for harsh action against China on human rights, technology and other issues, analysts said."There's still a possibility that tensions could become even more profound, and more severe, in the future under a Democratic administration," said Shi Yinhong, director of the Center on American Studies at Renmin University.Despite the softer tone, China's underlying view that the United States is a strategic and ideological rival bent on suppressing its rise has not changed. China's leader, Xi Jinping, continues to push a forceful agenda, including a crackdown on free speech and activism in Hong Kong, even in the face of punishments by the United States. Xi's government still routinely denounces America as a bully and hypocrite.But China's aggressive moves have also triggered disputes with other countries including India, Britain, Canada and Australia. Xi may now be seeking to project a less confrontational image as China finds itself increasingly isolated."Beijing's rhetoric appears aimed at defusing the global backlash that its brash diplomacy and harsh policies have provoked," said Jessica Chen Weiss, an associate professor of government at Cornell University.As Trump has escalated his punitive campaign against China, Beijing's propaganda apparatus has worked to avoid stoking anger at home by instructing state media outlets to play down unfavorable news and limit talk of war, according to interviews with Chinese journalists.News of the closure of the U.S. consulate in Chengdu last month, a visceral symbol of the erosion of ties between the two countries, was buried in a two-sentence brief at the bottom of page three of People's Daily, the Communist Party's flagship newspaper.Trump's signing last week of two executive orders meant to restrict the use of Chinese social media apps in the United States did not even make the evening news, one of the most widely watched television programs in China.Hu Xijin, the chief editor of Global Times, a staunchly nationalistic party-run tabloid, said that he has been surprised by the speed at which ties with the United States have deteriorated. In this climate, he said, his newspaper had an obligation "not to intensify this conflict," and was trying to limit the publication of content that could rouse hatred of the American people."We stress that when the United States suppresses China, in general we would say that this is the work of the U.S. government," Hu said in an interview. "We would generally not hang these hostile intentions on all of the United States or all Americans."Still, Hu drew some criticism late last month after suggesting on his social media page that China should rapidly expand its stock of nuclear warheads to deter the United States. A prominent nuclear weapons expert, in an unusually blunt rebuke, called such talk "hype" and said its aim was to "incite dissatisfaction" with the party and the military.Tamping down frustration at the United States among ordinary Chinese may be challenging. Chinese social media sites have been awash with assertive commentaries carrying headlines such as "America will collapse this year" and "Does the United States really dare to go to war with our country?"The public generally takes a hawkish view of foreign policy, surveys have shown, favoring greater military spending and a more assertive approach to defending China's territorial claims. Beijing continues to take a tough stance on Taiwan, the self-governed island China claims as its territory, and Thursday said it had held military drills near it.In some cases, Chinese internet users have attacked scholars and journalists who have toned down their rhetoric.Jin Canrong, a professor of international studies at Renmin University, has argued previously that China should take a more assertive role in global affairs and challenge America's influence. China has the ability to destroy U.S. military bases in Asia, he has said.More recently, Jin has said China should pursue a "chess war" with the United States rather than armed conflict or a Cold War. He was criticized on Chinese social media sites for his more moderate tone.In an interview, Jin defended his views, saying the risk of an accidental confrontation was higher before the U.S. election and that China would keep a low profile. "China won't fire the first shot," he said. "We won't provoke."Even as China shifts tactics, its success could be limited. The Trump administration shows no signs of easing its efforts to dismantle decades of political, economic and social engagement with China. The State Department on Thursday said it was designating the U.S. headquarters of the Confucius Institutes, a Chinese government educational organization, as a diplomatic mission, a move China denounced as "totally unacceptable."The Trump administration is also unlikely to heed calls for a cease-fire unless Chinese officials go beyond promises of reconciliation. Beijing may need to offer concrete proposals on issues such as military tensions in the South China Sea or Xi's crackdown in Hong Kong."There's no way to maintain the avoidance of major conflict without concrete trade-offs," said Shi, the American studies expert at Renmin University.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company



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After 102 Days COVID-Free, New Zealand’s Resurgence Highlights the Difficulties of Returning to Normal Life

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For the past three months, New Zealanders have enjoyed a ‘COVID-free’ country, with citizens hugging one another, children returning to classrooms and sport fans filling stadiums. But this changed on Tuesday, when a family of four from Auckland, the country’s biggest city, tested positive for the virus, breaking a 102 day streak without any new COVID-19 cases. As of today, 29 people have tested positive for the virus, all of which remain linked to the original four cases.

Although the government says the latest outbreak appears to currently be limited to one cluster, it is taking tough actions to prohibit any further spread. The small outbreak has sent a third of the population back into lockdown and the rest of the country into restrictions. Auckland has been placed under level 3 lockdown, with residents asked to stay home unless they have to go into work, buy groceries or exercise. “We can see the seriousness of the situation we are in,” Jacinda Ardern, the country’s prime minister said at a press conference. “It’s being dealt with in an urgent but calm and methodical way.”

New Zealand has been lauded internationally for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic with some suggesting Ardern is “the most effective leader on the planet.” Intense contact tracing, isolation and testing made New Zealand one of the first COVID-free countries in the world. On June 8, all social distancing measures were lifted after a 51-day lockdown, allowing citizens to return to normal life. Strict border controls remained in place, however, prohibiting entry to non-New Zealenders and requiring all returning citizens quarantine for 14 days.

But the latest outbreak in New Zealand—a country held up as an example by the World Health Organization—shows that even in a COVID-free nation that is implementing the toughest border control measures, coronavirus remains a threat. “Once again we are reminded of how tricky this virus is and how easily it can spread,” Ardern said in a televised media conference on Thursday. “Going hard and early is still the best course of action.”

New Zealand is not alone in confronting new COVID-19 waves after initial success in curbing the spread of the virus. Vietnam went 99 days without any new cases only to see a surge of new infections in July centered on the port city of Danang. Australia—where officials had talked of eliminating the coronavirus there, as well—recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic on August 10 due to a major outbreak centered on Melbourne. Much of the city, and surrounding state of Victoria, was forced a second lockdown to curtail the spread.

How did the virus resurface in New Zealand?

On Tuesday, four people from the same family tested positive for the virus, becoming the first cases since the country declared itself COVID-free on June 8. None of the patients worked at the country’s borders or had traveled overseas, raising questions about how they became infected in the first place. As of Friday, the cluster of cases has grown to 29 but remain connected to the original cases in Auckland. Thirty-eight people are in government quarantine.

Over 200 people who may have been exposed to the patients have since been tested, the majority of whom are from the same two workplaces as the infected individuals. One unproven theory is that the virus arrived in New Zealand by way of cargo, as one of the original infected individuals worked at Americold, a cold storage facility with imported food. Everyone at the company has been tested, with seven workers testing positive for the virus. Surfaces at the companies’ facilities have also been tested, amid evidence that the virus thrives in cold storage facilities. The company has mandated that all employees and their families self-isolate.

Additional testing is also being done at Rotorua, a town 142 miles southeast of Auckland, where the four family members visited prior to testing positive with the virus.

Although New Zealand has seen success in curbing the spread of the virus, experts say it is unsurprising the country is experiencing a new surge.

“Even with quite stringent precautions I don’t think we can be too surprised to see clusters arising,” said Angharad Davies, a clinical associate professor in microbiology at Swansea University. “Asymptomatic or near-asymptomatic infection and transmission makes this infection very difficult to track and it can circulate below-the-radar before being picked up, especially in clusters of younger people.”

Although all cases have been linked back to one cluster, it is too early to know whether the virus is circulating more widely. The original patient started showing symptoms on July 31, making it possible that the virus has been spreading undetected in New Zealand for several weeks.

“As we all learnt from our first experience with [COVID-19], once you identify a cluster, it grows before it slows,” Ardern said at a media briefing in Wellington on Thursday. “We should expect that to be the case here.”

What new restrictions has the government imposed?

On Wednesday, the government implemented a three-day lockdown in Auckland, requiring residents of the city to stay home except for work, necessary shopping and exercise. All schools, childcare facilities and non-essential businesses have been closed.

Although restrictions are less strict across the rest of the country, people are required to socially distance by maintaining two metres apart and wearing masks. The government has released 5 million masks from the national stockpile and is circulating them to vulnerable people who may be unable to afford one. All retirement homes have also been shut down and gatherings have been limited to under 100 people. Unlike with the previous lockdown, all patients who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to stay in a government-managed quarantine.

The government is also rolling out a COVID-19 tracer app to allow individuals to create digital records of where they have been that will help with contact tracing in the event of an outbreak. All businesses and services are required to display a QR code at the entry of their sites so that people using the app can check themselves in to that establishment. On Tuesday night alone, 100,000 people downloaded the app. “The ability to contact trace is one of the key tools we have to find new cases and get them in isolation to avoid future lockdowns,” Ardern said. “Using the app is a big investment in keeping our businesses and economy open.”

Since lockdown measures were announced on Wednesday, the country has seen a mixed response, with many abiding by the new rules and some fighting against them. In the Northland city of Whangarei, a small group of sixty people protested against new lockdown measures on Thursday. The protesters argued that the government’s latest restrictions violated their rights.

On Friday, Ardern announced a 12-day extension of the Auckland lockdown.

“They have achieved such a good level of control and so few cases that quite drastic short-term local measures are justified, in order to preserve relative normality in the medium to longer term,” said Davies.

How did New Zealand contain the virus the first time?

When COVID-19 was beginning to spread to other countries at the beginning of this year, New Zealand took decisive action to protect itself from the virus.

On February 3, New Zealand, which did not yet have any reported cases of COVID-19, banned entry to any foreigner coming from or via China where the outbreak began. Shortly after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March, officials imposed a mandatory lockdown for all those entering the country, one of the strictest lockdown measures in the world during that period. Within weeks, the government closed the border entirely to all non-citizens and residents.

At the same time, the government implemented a countrywide lockdown that restricted movement and limited social interaction to within a household. The government also carried out over 10,000 tests a day and implemented extensive contact tracing.

Although the island country is isolated and has a low population density, making containment efforts easier, experts say it’s the government’s decisive action that helped curb the spread of the virus. “New Zealand had the advantage of being an island but also established a hard lockdown and strict border controls early on, which were critical,” said Davies.

Part of what also appears to have made New Zealand’s strategy so successful is the willingness of citizens to abide by lockdown rules. Overwhelmingly, New Zealenders support the government’s approach to the pandemic, with one poll finding that 87% of citizens backed the government’s lockdown measures and only 8% opposed. Ardern has repeatedly thanked the New Zealand public, referring to the country as a “team of five million.”





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After 102 Days COVID-Free, New Zealand’s Resurgence Highlights the Difficulties of Returning to Normal Life

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For the past three months, New Zealanders have enjoyed a ‘COVID-free’ country, with citizens hugging one another, children returning to classrooms and sport fans filling stadiums. But this changed on Tuesday, when a family of four from Auckland, the country’s biggest city, tested positive for the virus, breaking a 102 day streak without any new COVID-19 cases. As of today, 29 people have tested positive for the virus, all of which remain linked to the original four cases.

Although the government says the latest outbreak appears to currently be limited to one cluster, it is taking tough actions to prohibit any further spread. The small outbreak has sent a third of the population back into lockdown and the rest of the country into restrictions. Auckland has been placed under level 3 lockdown, with residents asked to stay home unless they have to go into work, buy groceries or exercise. “We can see the seriousness of the situation we are in,” Jacinda Ardern, the country’s prime minister said at a press conference. “It’s being dealt with in an urgent but calm and methodical way.”

New Zealand has been lauded internationally for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic with some suggesting Ardern is “the most effective leader on the planet.” Intense contact tracing, isolation and testing made New Zealand one of the first COVID-free countries in the world. On June 8, all social distancing measures were lifted after a 51-day lockdown, allowing citizens to return to normal life. Strict border controls remained in place, however, prohibiting entry to non-New Zealenders and requiring all returning citizens quarantine for 14 days.

But the latest outbreak in New Zealand—a country held up as an example by the World Health Organization—shows that even in a COVID-free nation that is implementing the toughest border control measures, coronavirus remains a threat. “Once again we are reminded of how tricky this virus is and how easily it can spread,” Ardern said in a televised media conference on Thursday. “Going hard and early is still the best course of action.”

New Zealand is not alone in confronting new COVID-19 waves after initial success in curbing the spread of the virus. Vietnam went 99 days without any new cases only to see a surge of new infections in July centered on the port city of Danang. Australia—where officials had talked of eliminating the coronavirus there, as well—recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic on August 10 due to a major outbreak centered on Melbourne. Much of the city, and surrounding state of Victoria, was forced a second lockdown to curtail the spread.

How did the virus resurface in New Zealand?

On Tuesday, four people from the same family tested positive for the virus, becoming the first cases since the country declared itself COVID-free on June 8. None of the patients worked at the country’s borders or had traveled overseas, raising questions about how they became infected in the first place. As of Friday, the cluster of cases has grown to 29 but remain connected to the original cases in Auckland. Thirty-eight people are in government quarantine.

Over 200 people who may have been exposed to the patients have since been tested, the majority of whom are from the same two workplaces as the infected individuals. One unproven theory is that the virus arrived in New Zealand by way of cargo, as one of the original infected individuals worked at Americold, a cold storage facility with imported food. Everyone at the company has been tested, with seven workers testing positive for the virus. Surfaces at the companies’ facilities have also been tested, amid evidence that the virus thrives in cold storage facilities. The company has mandated that all employees and their families self-isolate.

Additional testing is also being done at Rotorua, a town 142 miles southeast of Auckland, where the four family members visited prior to testing positive with the virus.

Although New Zealand has seen success in curbing the spread of the virus, experts say it is unsurprising the country is experiencing a new surge.

“Even with quite stringent precautions I don’t think we can be too surprised to see clusters arising,” said Angharad Davies, a clinical associate professor in microbiology at Swansea University. “Asymptomatic or near-asymptomatic infection and transmission makes this infection very difficult to track and it can circulate below-the-radar before being picked up, especially in clusters of younger people.”

Although all cases have been linked back to one cluster, it is too early to know whether the virus is circulating more widely. The original patient started showing symptoms on July 31, making it possible that the virus has been spreading undetected in New Zealand for several weeks.

“As we all learnt from our first experience with [COVID-19], once you identify a cluster, it grows before it slows,” Ardern said at a media briefing in Wellington on Thursday. “We should expect that to be the case here.”

What new restrictions has the government imposed?

On Wednesday, the government implemented a three-day lockdown in Auckland, requiring residents of the city to stay home except for work, necessary shopping and exercise. All schools, childcare facilities and non-essential businesses have been closed.

Although restrictions are less strict across the rest of the country, people are required to socially distance by maintaining two metres apart and wearing masks. The government has released 5 million masks from the national stockpile and is circulating them to vulnerable people who may be unable to afford one. All retirement homes have also been shut down and gatherings have been limited to under 100 people. Unlike with the previous lockdown, all patients who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to stay in a government-managed quarantine.

The government is also rolling out a COVID-19 tracer app to allow individuals to create digital records of where they have been that will help with contact tracing in the event of an outbreak. All businesses and services are required to display a QR code at the entry of their sites so that people using the app can check themselves in to that establishment. On Tuesday night alone, 100,000 people downloaded the app. “The ability to contact trace is one of the key tools we have to find new cases and get them in isolation to avoid future lockdowns,” Ardern said. “Using the app is a big investment in keeping our businesses and economy open.”

Since lockdown measures were announced on Wednesday, the country has seen a mixed response, with many abiding by the new rules and some fighting against them. In the Northland city of Whangarei, a small group of sixty people protested against new lockdown measures on Thursday. The protesters argued that the government’s latest restrictions violated their rights.

On Friday, Ardern announced a 12-day extension of the Auckland lockdown.

“They have achieved such a good level of control and so few cases that quite drastic short-term local measures are justified, in order to preserve relative normality in the medium to longer term,” said Davies.

How did New Zealand contain the virus the first time?

When COVID-19 was beginning to spread to other countries at the beginning of this year, New Zealand took decisive action to protect itself from the virus.

On February 3, New Zealand, which did not yet have any reported cases of COVID-19, banned entry to any foreigner coming from or via China where the outbreak began. Shortly after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March, officials imposed a mandatory lockdown for all those entering the country, one of the strictest lockdown measures in the world during that period. Within weeks, the government closed the border entirely to all non-citizens and residents.

At the same time, the government implemented a countrywide lockdown that restricted movement and limited social interaction to within a household. The government also carried out over 10,000 tests a day and implemented extensive contact tracing.

Although the island country is isolated and has a low population density, making containment efforts easier, experts say it’s the government’s decisive action that helped curb the spread of the virus. “New Zealand had the advantage of being an island but also established a hard lockdown and strict border controls early on, which were critical,” said Davies.

Part of what also appears to have made New Zealand’s strategy so successful is the willingness of citizens to abide by lockdown rules. Overwhelmingly, New Zealenders support the government’s approach to the pandemic, with one poll finding that 87% of citizens backed the government’s lockdown measures and only 8% opposed. Ardern has repeatedly thanked the New Zealand public, referring to the country as a “team of five million.”





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