Captaining a Team of 5 Million: New Zealand Beats Back COVID-19, March – June 2020


In early 2020, a novel coronavirus spread from Wuhan, China, to almost every corner of the globe. COVID-19 caused devastation in every country where it gained a foothold and was allowed to spread through the population. When the first cases hit New Zealand at the end of February and beginning of March, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern moved decisively by adopting a “go hard, go early” lockdown strategy to stop the virus from spreading across the island nation. Behind Ardern stood a small cadre of civil servants and infectious disease experts who studied the rapidly evolving science of pandemic response—and the virus itself—and made policy recommendations to Ardern and her cabinet. Behind that response team stood a battalion of police, healthcare professionals, and other essential workers ready to implement the policies. And behind them stood everyday New Zealanders—whom Ardern referred to as “the team of 5 million”—who gave up personal freedoms for the greater good during a mandatory national lockdown. A far-reaching and comprehensive communication effort drove strong public acceptance as the government shifted health directives and policies in response to the fast-changing situation. After May 1, the country went 102 days with no locally transmitted cases of the virus. However, a new outbreak of cases in August plunged Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, back into lockdown and made clear that extreme vigilance was necessary to protect New Zealanders from the pandemic raging abroad.

Blair Cameron drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Wellington, New Zealand, in July and August 2020. Case published September 2020.

Unite Against COVID-19
social mobilization
emergency response
infection control
crisis communications
Agile government
Focus Area(s)
Pandemic Response
Critical Tasks
Core Challenge
Norm coordination
Trust and legitimacy
Country of Reform
New Zealand
Case Studies
Blair Cameron