© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2020

Epicentre vs shining light - there's not much difference

James Fleury
Annabella Garwood in Northern Italy
Kiwi journalist Annabella Garwood in Northern Italy  Annabella Garwood

Two countries, two very different COVID-19 fatality outcomes - Italy and NZ now find themselves stuck in a similar economic situation.

Last month, Kiwi journalist living in Northern Italy, Annabella Garwood, told Metronews about the strict lockdown measures put in place by the Italian Government. 

The law only permitted government-approved travel, supermarkets, urgent health care, and use of other essential services. 

If residents left home without a valid reason or the appropriate declaration form, they faced a fine up to three months in prison. 

That day, Italy reported its daily death toll had nearly reached 1000. Hospitals were overrun and its government was being criticised for not acting fast enough at controlling the spread of COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, the country had fewer than 10 cases, no reported community transmission, and most people went about their normal lives.

Kiwis watched news reports of Italians who sang from their windows, played tennis from their rooftops, and even ran marathons on their balconies. 

Nearly a month on, New Zealanders have lived in lockdown for four weeks, far different from their life when Garwood spoke with Metronews. 

Social distancing, essential travel, and strict isolation measures have become the norm,  New Zealand no longer a safe haven at the bottom of the Pacific. 

This week Garwood gave Metronews an update of life in Northern Italy.

"The International Monetary Fund says Italy's GDP will fall 9.1 percent and unemployment will rise to nearly 13 percent." 

Garwood said tourism employees accounted for almost one-fifth of the workforce and with no sign of tourism picking up soon, the sector faced a tough road ahead.  

At the same time, many Kiwis have been made redundant, and businesses closed.

Director of the Asia and Pacific Department of the International Monetary Fund, Changyong Rhee said New Zealand's GDP would fall 7.2 percent because of larger slowdowns of the economy compared to other Asia, Pacific nations. 

"Their dependence on the service sector is larger. For example, tourism and education. Many foreign students are studying in Australia and New Zealand, so the service sector is hit harder."

Rhee said New Zealand's economy also started to slow before lockdown measures were implemented because the country was heavily export-focused, especially with China.

Garwood said some Italian scientists were now concerned about Italy possibly moving into the less restrictive phase two after lockdown. 

"The Italian representative to the World Health Organisation told media it's too early to start phase two, a second infection wave could put a strain on peoples' challenging lives again and the health service."

So too, New Zealand Director General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, and Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, are being questioned about whether it is too early to consider moving into the next phase of lockdown.