While Mr. Bloomfield’s self-effacing, slightly professorial manner seems to play well with New Zealanders, his popularity is rooted in the country’s success in keeping out Covid-19.
Until very recently, New Zealand seemed to have made it through the worst of the pandemic almost unscathed. With a robust elimination strategy, the country has experienced fewer than 3,000 cases since the start of the pandemic and only 26 deaths. The economy is in reasonable shape, unemployment is low and freedoms have been at prepandemic levels for most of the last year. As the country’s vaccination effort began to ramp up and amid nascent plans for reopening, the end appeared in sight.
But one mystery case appeared in the community Aug. 17 and quickly spiraled into an outbreak of nearly 350. Cases are yet to peak. We are almost two weeks into a restrictive nationwide lockdown — but instead of anger, Ashley-mania is on the up, all over again. He is still being looked to as the expert who can get New Zealand out of Covid trouble.
For now, staying at home is relatively novel for most New Zealanders. In Auckland, the epicenter of the outbreak, people are mostly sanguine about the prospect of a weekslong lockdown, which worked well in the first stages of the pandemic. Compliance is high: We’ve yet to experience the lockdown fatigue that has troubled Australian lawmakers in Victoria or New South Wales. (As one TikToker put it, the end of the lockdown will mean confronting the sad reality of seeing Mr. Bloomfield’s face less often at the news conferences.)
But that enthusiasm may dwindle after weeks indoors. At this early point, New Zealand’s Covid-19 modelers anticipate a lockdown of a month or more for Auckland. The free rein we had grown accustomed to — no masks, crowded bars, thumping concerts — may not return even after the country reopens. And our vaccine rollout is far behind that of most other wealthy countries, putting collective immunity out of reach for months to come.