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With COVID-19 Caring For Our Global Neighbours Is More Important Than Ever

New Zealand’s progress controlling Covid-19 has started to attract international attention. So as infections track down and we scale back our lockdown levels, let's take a moment to poke our heads out of our New Zealand bubble and look at what international role we could play.

In many ways we’ve been fortunate in our timing. The first wave that hit China was soon followed by a second wave, carried by travellers around mostly wealthy developed countries. It arrived here relatively late, giving us time to prepare and – crucially – to learn from others’ mistakes.

It’s the third wave of the pandemic though that hasn’t had much attention, but is widely predicted to be the deadliest. It’s the one that’s just now starting to swamp our global neighbours in the poorest parts of the world.

As news of the early New Zealand coronavirus cases was breaking, I was in the world’s largest refugee settlement. Ethnic Rohingya families had fled murderous rampages against them in Myanmar, to find safety across the border in Bangladesh.

Forget about self-isolation to stop the spread. Extended families there often share a single ‘tent’ made of plastic sheeting and bamboo supports. It’s a long way from remote working, social distancing and constant handwashing. A single tap-stand must sometimes serve 50 families.

Our Pacific neighbours face different but equally daunting challenges. Many Pacific countries don’t have a single ICU bed, and tests often have to be flown out of the country for analysis. Like most developing countries, there’s likely to be significant under-reporting of infections.

But like with our neighbours at home, our fates are tied together. There can be no solution to this in one part of the world if it is left to keep infecting other parts of the world. Just as we cannot shut ourselves in our homes forever, we cannot close our borders permanently.

This crisis has reminded us how important it is to look out for our neighbours here in New Zealand. Now we have a chance as a nation to prove what a great global neighbour we can be. Here are three suggestions.

Firstly, the prospect of effective control or eradication here means that we could use expertise and capacity to help elsewhere. Rather than scaling back down the contact tracing and testing we have built up, we could re-allocate it to help Pacific nations get to the same place.

And if that hurried along control – or even eradication – in the Pacific, we could expand to a Pacific bubble. This would allow trade, travel and expertise to flow freely between us.

Secondly, just as we have kept the essential services like medicines and food going here, we must work to keep them going globally.

President Trump’s move to cut off funding to the World Health Organisation signals a risk that countries will pull back from essential programmes like child immunisations, malaria prevention and food distribution, right when they are needed the most.

My grandparent’s generation had a very different world view. They fought the second world war in Europe – not because of the direct dangers New Zealand faced – but because they understood the need to stand together with others and protect those in danger.

This must be a global response. Just as we are looking out for the most vulnerable here, we need governments, organisations and us as individual citizens to come together to fund and support efforts to protect the most vulnerable internationally.

World Vision has warned that 30 million girls and boys are at imminent, life-threatening danger from unintended consequences of lockdowns in developing countries – especially in war zones and refugee settlements. If you can only feed your family tonight from what you earn today, lockdowns threaten your family’s very survival.

We cannot leave these children to bear the brunt of the pandemic response, so now is not the time to be cutting the tiny proportion of the world’s – or New Zealand’s – resources that go to supporting those most in need. Instead, let’s cheer on and support the world’s most essential work.

And thirdly, just as we are already planning our rebuild efforts here, we can help champion a global Marshall Plan to rebuild as the pandemic recedes. We have a unique opportunity to focus that stimulus on areas that leave a lighter footprint on our planet, and that lift up the poorest countries and their citizens – supporting them to recover and thrive.

At the Rohingya refugee settlement in Bangladesh, news of the coronavirus was only just starting to seep through, but people were already scared. One man said to my colleague, “I’ve heard that you have a vaccine for this in rich countries. When you get home, please can you make sure we get it too?”.

As we do what we can for the vulnerable here, let’s also do what we can for the most vulnerable around the world. They are the global neighbours that we may never meet, but our neighbours nevertheless.

--- Grant Bayldon, National Director of World Vision New Zealand

© Scoop Media

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