$585 a week.
That's how much it costs to flatten the Covid curve.
New Zealand won the initial battle against Covid and did so resoundingly. The world applauded our strong approach to lockdown and isolation.
While Spain and France have each had to bury over 20,000 dead, New Zealand has had to mourn only 21. While the UK's death rate is 400 per million, ours is four per million.
Call it elimination, or suppression, or whatever you want, we achieved it and survived the initial onslaught largely unscathed. We did this through a nationwide six-week community lockdown, the cost of which was subsidised by tax dollars funding a Covid wage subsidy of up to $585 a week.
Simply put, this money allowed workers to remain at home and comply with public health recommendations. The Covid wage subsidy had broad political support, and has now been extended for another eight weeks until September 1.
In total, over these five months New Zealand will have paid out around $11,000 of wage subsidies per eligible employee. On the other hand, the richest country in the world, the United States, has given its citizens a one-off Covid tax refund of only NZ$2000. The aid has been meagre, slow in coming, and has done little to assuage the economic fears of the 36 million Americans who have become unemployed in the last two months.
Consider that the next time you wonder why some countries have failed so miserably at commonsense and effective public health measures like lockdown, despite a worldwide death toll that has exceeded 300,000. They may have entered lockdown astonishingly late, performed isolation measures half-heartedly, and had citizens violently agitating to exit lockdown prematurely. The US has fallen headlong into all three errors, at a human cost of what is now around 2000 Covid deaths a day.
There are many explanations for the stark international differences - varying levels of trust in government, emphasis on the individual versus the group, population density or political and religious beliefs. But also take a moment to consider the influence of what public health specialists call the "economic determinants of health", things like income and household wealth.
If you have no job, no padding in the bank account, and no government financial support, "flattening the curve" is meaningless. Social distancing is a luxury. Lockdown and working from home aren't options when you're jobless and hungry.
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The fact we've had only 21 Covid deaths is a stunning testament to effective communication and strong social cohesiveness, willing taxpayer funding, and the support of a broad array of politicians who enacted the wage subsidy.
It may turn out that spending $585 a week per worker was perhaps the best medicine of all.
• Gary Payinda is a US-trained emergency doctor who has spent the past 13 years working in Northland