Statement by Dr David Nabarro
Comparing the New Zealand response to COVID-19 with Sweden: setting the record straight
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND: 1 September 2020
After an interview I had with a New Zealand journalist on 26 August 2020, a comparison with the Swedish approach to managing COVID was made. The following headline was used to promote the interview, “NZ should move to similar approach to COVID as Sweden – WHO special envoy Dr Nabarro suggests”. Magic Radio, the outlet that published the interview, has since changed the headline to, “Should we compare ourselves to other countries like Sweden? WHO special envoy Dr David Nabarro discusses this with Ryan”. The current headline^ and this tweet* remain misleading and I am issuing this statement to clarify that, as stated in the full interview, I encourage all nations to adopt comprehensive prevention and containment strategies. I make a point of not making specific comparisons between national responses.
Tough decisions are being made every day by Governments, including in New Zealand, to prevent the re-emergence of major outbreaks and to keep the virus at bay. Efforts to contain COVID19 outbreaks often involve widespread restrictions on people’s movements, or “lockdowns”. These can have severe social, economic and educational consequences. I have seen, in many settings, how governments are implementing comprehensive data-informed strategies at local level. They are finding ways to avoid re-introducing national lockdowns. I encourage each community and each nation to adopt such strategies when preventing and managing COVID-19 outbreaks: the strategies have been clearly set out by the World Health Organization and are updated regularly.
I take this opportunity to stress the importance that I give to responsible journalism. Misleading headlines create confusion and concern which in turn makes the implementation of public health strategies even more difficult. The misleading headline last week undermines the valiant efforts being made throughout New Zealand to contain a virus that is killing thousands every day across our world.
Responsible reporting matters a lot because we all depend on the media as we explore issues that are vital for the future of humanity. All societies throughout our world are involved in the response to COVID-19. There is intense interest in the behaviour change needed to stop the spread of the virus. How can we best support measures put in place by national and local authorities to interrupt transmission (including test, trace and isolate) while continuing with our own lives and keeping our businesses going? People want to know what seems to be working best: reporting by the media helps us all form our opinions.
Reliable reporting helps everyone make sense of the issues they face. This really matters with COVID-19. We are all working out how to live with the threats posed by this dangerous virus. We all want to play our part in keeping it at bay. We are not helped by misleading headlines, whatever the rationale behind them.
Dr David Nabarro
Special Envoy of the World Health Organization Director-General on COVID-19
Co-Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at the Imperial College London
Strategic Director of 4SD
For more information about assessing national performance in response to COVID-19, please read this article in the Lancet by Dale Fisher, Yik Ying Teo and David Nabarro: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31601-9
For official guidance from the World Health Organization on COVID-19, please visit https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
* As of 2 September 2020, the tweet is no longer available.
^As of 11 September 2020, the interview and corresponding article can no longer be accessed on the Magic website.