The country has been infected with the virus twice. Voters are likely to reward the “rescue woman” with a landslide.

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With some of the world’s strictest measures, New Zealand has managed to stagnate the infection better than most. A charismatic prime minister gets a lot of the credit.

The election campaign in New Zealand has been conducted almost as usual in recent weeks after the country was declared virus-free for the second time. The election was supposed to take place in September, but it was postponed until October 17 due to a new outbreak in Auckland. Photo: Mark Baker / AP / NTB

Eight months into the pandemic, Europe is at full speed into a new wave of infections. Gate bans and new closures are introduced at record speed.

But on a small island kingdom in the southwest Pacific, everyday life is startlingly similar to normal. Pubs are packed. Mouthpieces are almost invisible. Last week, a rugby match was played in front of 30,000 spectators. And on October 10, 5,000 people gathered for a music festival in the country’s second largest city, writes the magazine Time.

For the second time, New Zealand has managed something most other countries in the world can only dream of: taking back everyday life. At least for now.

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– ┬źNew Zealand’s rescue woman┬╗

In addition, there is an election campaign. In recent weeks, the candidates have met the voters with both selfies and handshakes.

On Saturday 17 October, New Zealanders go to the polls.

With a solid leadership in most polls, it will take a lot for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Labor Party to be deprived of power.

This is not how it looked at the beginning of the year. At the time, many voters felt that the party on the left had trouble delivering on previous election promises. Then came the pandemic.

Labor’s support skyrocketed. The voters’ assessment of Ardern’s personal efforts did the same. In April, almost a record 65 percent thought that the Prime Minister did a good job. This summer, a party colleague called her “New Zealand’s rescue woman”.

“Many voters feel that Ardern has literally saved them,” political commentator Ben Thomas told The Economist.

To date, the country has registered 25 deaths and just over 1880 cases of infection.

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Health authorities in New Zealand believe it is not necessary to keep a distance anymore after the country has gained control of the virus for the second time. Photo: Mark Baker / AP / NTB

Absolute response

“Go hard and go early.” That has been Arden’s message.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, the authorities’ tactics were to eliminate the virus before it gained a firm foothold in the country. The first travel restrictions were already in place on February 3 – almost a month before the country registered its first case of infection.

When Norway shut down on March 12, we had 621 registered infected.

In mid-March, New Zealand did the same. At that time the number of infected was 102. People were asked to stay at home, large gatherings were banned and schools closed. The focus was immediately on expanding test capacity and intense infection tracking, writes Business Insider.

In April, New Zealand reached its highest number of infections in one day – 89. But then it turned around.

In June, the country declared itself virus-free. Restrictions were largely lifted.

It lasted a little over 100 days. Then a new eruption was reported in the country’s largest city, Auckland with 1.6 million inhabitants.

The outbreak counted only a few dozen cases. But again, the authorities responded immediately and resolutely. The city was shut down.

In early October, Ardern announced for the second time that New Zealand had got rid of the virus. Most restrictions were lifted again.

After more than 100 days without virus infection, a new outbreak was discovered in Auckland with 1.6 million inhabitants. Dozens of cases were linked to the outbreak. Photo: Mark Baker / AP / NTB

Historical economic downturn

However, the strict measures have cost New Zealand dearly. In the second quarter of the year, the country’s GDP shrank by 12.2 per cent. It has never happened before in the country’s history.

Several experts have pointed out that the island kingdom’s isolated location has made infection control easier. The country has continued to close its borders to foreigners. In addition, they have a relatively small population – around five million, roughly the same number as Norway.

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Nevertheless, several political observers are impressed with Ardern’s leadership during the crisis. She has managed to get the kiwis on the team with a clear and solidary rhetoric, says Richard Shaw, professor of politics at Massey University in New Zealand.

“Ardern has shown mastery in political communication,” said Shaw, according to Time.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is praised for her clear crisis communication. During the first months of the pandemic, she spoke almost daily to the country’s residents via Facebook Live. Here she demonstrates how to wear a face mask. Foto: Facebook/Jacinda Ardern/NTB

Shooting stars in the political arena

Not surprisingly, much of this year’s election campaign has revolved around the 40-year-old prime minister.

The contrast is great when she came to power in a very surprising way three years ago. Just a few weeks before the 2017 election, the then relatively unknown politician took over as party leader. Against all odds, she managed to lead Labor to government offices on a wave of voters the media called “Jacindamania.”

With that, she became the world’s youngest female prime minister.

Best in crises

Since then, she has earned a high star. Ardern is something as rare as a world-renowned New Zealand politician. Among other things, she has graced the cover of Vogue and Time magazines. In international liberal circles, she has sailed up as a progressive icon.

Internationally, she became seriously known for the way she led the country through the Christchurch massacre in 2019 that killed 51 people. In the aftermath of the tragedy, she put in place stricter weapons legislation in record time.

And it is her crisis management that has first and foremost earned her national recognition, political commentators believe.

– She excels in times of crisis. Her enormous aptitude for sympathy is very genuine. And she is probably able to project these feelings more effectively than anyone else in the international community does, says Ben Thomas to CNN.

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But Ardern still faces criticism. Several believe she has not delivered on several of her most important election promises, including remedying the housing shortage and reducing child poverty in the country.

Can be a historical result

For the past three years, Labor has ruled with right-wing populist New Zealand First. In addition, the Green Party has been part of the coalition.

If absolutely everything goes the right way, some polls have suggested that Labor can get a clear majority with almost half of the votes.

This has never happened under the current electoral system, which was introduced in 1996. New Zealand’s proportional electoral system facilitates coalition governments.

Recent polls suggest that Labor is likely to form a left-wing Green Party government. In that case, it will be the country’s first pure left-wing government in over 20 years.

And in early October, about half of voters preferred Ardern as prime minister. 23 percent said the same about her opponent from the opposition, Judith Collins (right) Foto: Fiona Goodall/Reuters/NTB

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