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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

New Zealand eliminates COVID-19 for a 2nd time; cases surge in Europe

Oct. 7 (UPI) — New Zealand on Wednesday announced it has eliminated local transmission of the coronavirus for a second time as cases surge in Europe.

New Zealand’s Health Minister Chris Hipkins said there were no more active community cases of COVID-19 in the country after the last patients had recovered from a recent outbreak of the virus.

“This is a big milestone,” he said. “New Zealanders have once again through their collective actions squashed the virus.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced in early June that the archipelago Oceania nation had eliminated the virus, lifting the country from weeks of strict lockdown measures in doing so.

But after going more than 100 days without reporting local transmission of the virus, the country was placed back under lockdown in August as four new cases were confirmed among a single Auckland family with no known source of transmission.

In total, 186 community cases of COVID-19 — 179 of which were connected to the Auckland cluster — were diagnosed, but all of them have since been discharged from hospitals. The so-called Auckland cluster will be officially considered “closed” after two incubation periods have elapsed.

“While having stamped out COVID-19 in our community for the second time is a real achievement that New Zealanders should be proud of, there is an ongoing risk that further community cases will emerge in the future,” he said. “I urge New Zealanders to remain vigilant and to not let complacency creep in.”

New Zealand has been internationally lauded for its suppression of the coronavirus, having reported only 25 deaths and fewer than 1,600 confirmed cases of the virus that was first diagnosed in the country in late February.

On Wednesday, health officials reported three new imported cases in New Zealand, and they have been isolated in quarantine, lifting its total number of confirmed cases to 1,505 and 1,861 confirmed and probable cases.

Auckland, which has been under Alert Level 2 lockdown since August, will move to the less restrictive Alert Level 1 at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

In Europe, however, cases have been surging since Septemeber.

On Wednesday, health officials in the Czech Republic announced a record high 4,457 cases, trumping its previous high of 3,796 infections diagnosed late last week.

The central European country has been battling skyrocketing cases since late August, lifting its total number of infections to 90,022, nearly half of which were still active by Wednesday morning.

The Czech Republic also recorded a record high of 36 deaths in the last 24 hours for a total of 794.

A state of emergency went into effect on Monday that will last at least 30 days, enforcing strict social distancing, closing secondary schools where clusters are reported and banning spectators from sporting events, among other actions.

According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, 27 European nations, including the Czech Republic, have experienced high levels or sustained increases in 14-day COVID-19 case rates compared to the previous week.

Europe over Tuesday added more than 82,000