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Some U.S. doctors flee to New Zealand where the outbreak is under control and science is respected

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media at a press conference ahead of a nationwide lockdown at Parliament on March 25, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Hagen Hopkins | Getty Images

Dr. Judy Melinek knew it was time to make a change when she started fear for her health and safety.

While working as acting chief forensic pathologist for Alameda County in California, she read early reports about a virus in Wuhan, China. By June, after repeatedly sounding the alarm about the need for health workers to have sufficient personal protective equipment, she’d had enough. She also hoped for temperature checks, social distancing and masks, but she noticed that not all of the staff in her office were taking these steps.

And then an email appeared offering her the opportunity to relocate to New Zealand, a country that has reported less than 2,000 coronavirus cases and 25 deaths, drawing widespread praise from around the world for its science-led response. Melinek jumped at the opportunity. 

After a period of quarantine, she’s now living and working in Wellington City, New Zealand. She’s been impressed so far. “There’s a lot more respect for the government and for science here,” she said. 

Melinek is part of a wave of U.S. doctors plotting a move to New Zealand. A spokesperson for Global Medical Staffing, a recruitment group that helps doctors find short and long-term positions around the world, noted that inquiries have increased about relocating to New Zealand from the U.S. as more physician jobs have been affected during the pandemic. In addition, more physicians currently employed in New Zealand who already located are choosing to extend their contracts “because of fewer reported cases of Covid-19,” meaning that there’s a slight dip in open roles. 

Melinek has been open about her decision on social media, and has subsequently heard from half dozen of her peers considering doing the same. She expects the number to keep rising as the pandemic continues. “America will suffer an exodus of professionals to other countries that have responded better, with economies that have recovered faster,” she said. 

In the the United States, where the federal government has largely left the response for the pandemic up to the states, more than 213,000 people have died from the virus. Across the country, some states have largely reopened, despite recent surges in cases. An outbreak that tore throughout the White House has spread to at least 37 people, including President Donald Trump, according to a website tracking the infections. 

New Zealand, by contrast, recently declared victory over the virus after eradicating community spread for the second time. 

In addition, many public health workers and scientists based in the United States say they have faced online harassment and threats while sharing guidance to the public about measures to keep them safe, including masks and social distancing. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has repeatedly praised scientists, and offered empathy to the public at the most trying times, including during the early lockdown. 

New Zealand