In the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, when tens of thousands of racegoers were heading to the Cheltenham Festival in the UK and Prime Minister Boris Johnson was shaking hands with Covid-19 patients, Jacinda Ardern made the decision to “go hard and go early” in a bid to eradicate the disease within weeks.
Not content with ‘flattening the curve’ or mitigating the spread of the disease, Ardern announced her intention to completely clear New Zealand of coronavirus, closing the borders and enforcing a strict lockdown.
Whereas the British government has been lambasted for its failures on testing and its flirtation with ‘herd immunity’, Ardern’s government used the breathing space afforded by lockdown to quarantine anyone arriving at New Zealand’s borders.
Crucially, it expanded testing and contact tracing – a measure that experts agree will be crucial to stopping a second outbreak should lockdown be lifted.
Tricky first term
This has not been the first crisis Ardern has had to face since being voted in as Prime Minister in 2017.
Last year a white supremacist burst into two mosques in Christchurch killing at least 50 people and wounding dozens more.
The tragedy quickly became international news, but Ardern’s compassionate and composed response in the face of the worst mass killing in her country’s modern history soon became a talking point.
She led a multiparty delegation from the country’s capital, Wellington, to Christchurch, donning a black headscarf and mourning with relatives and friends of the victims.
She also promised to cover the funeral costs of all those slain.
“Ardern’s performance has been extraordinary – and I believe she will be strongly lauded for it both domestically and internationally,” political commentator Bryce Edwards of Victoria University in Wellington told Reuters.
Ms Ardern has also followed through in rhetoric and action. She immediately decried the white-nationalist ideology that fuelled the massacre and spoke firmly for what she believed were her country’s values.
She later recalled: “I just remember feeling this overwhelming sense of, here are people who have made New Zealand their home. Regardless of whether someone had been in New Zealand for a generation or whether they moved here a year ago, this was their home, and they should have been safe and they should have been able to worship here, and that was when I wrote down those words: they are us.”
Shining example in leadership
She was also credited for a “shining example in leadership” when, on December 9th, New Zealand witnessed the eruption of a volcano in White Island, a tourist spot, killing nine people and injuring about 30.
Ardern reached out to the affected families saying she knew “there will be a huge amount of concern and anxiety for those loved ones at the island at that time” and assured them of quick rescue and relief operations.
Her reaction was to share in people’s grief, to sympathise with them and to offer decisive action from the heart of the operation.
Combating inequality and climate change
It is, of course, worth noting that the Prime Minister has led these responses at a time when her government is rolling out one of the most radical, progressive agendas on the global stage.
Last year legislators joined forces across the aisle to pass a bill aimed at combating climate change.
It came after Ardern put out a national budget where spending is dictated by what best encourages the “well-being” of citizens, rather than focussing on traditional bottom-line measures like productivity and economic growth.
All at the same time as she was mothering a new baby. Not bad.