In New Zealand, the last-known person with coronavirus recovered this week, bringing to an end, for now, the health crisis that had brought the remote country of 5 million people to a standstill.
“We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now. But elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. Over the past three months, Ardern’s government had been praised for its approach to the virus. When New Zealand had only 100 confirmed cases, it completely shut down, with all international flights canceled and nonessential businesses closed.
During those weeks, Auckland-based Cameron McLaren photographed his country at a standstill. In his own neighborhood, he saw a change in how people behaved toward each other. “We got to know our neighborhood and neighbors a little bit more, and everyone said ‘Kia Ora’ or hello when we crossed paths on early-morning walks,” he said. “People seemed to find peace within their own bubbles. [This] more localized lifestyle was very interesting and intriguing to me.”
As the country now reopens, there’s no denying that the pandemic had a profound effect on its population. “On the one hand the lockdown gave people the opportunity to connect with what is truly important in their lives,” McLaren said. “On the other, it devastated people’s lives and businesses. Witnessing the amount of trauma it caused people has become fatiguing.”
Yet, the crisis showed that New Zealanders were ready to come together for the greater good, he added. “Despite hearing many different opinions on how the government handled the crisis, people still joined together. I think there is a great sense of pride and togetherness amongst New Zealanders.”