The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of millions of people all around the world, causing deaths and leading to social and humanitarian crises in most countries. Since its beginning, more than 245 million people have been affected worldwide, and more than 4.98 million deaths have been reported globally (WHO Coronavirus Dashboard, 2021). Most countries were not prepared to handle this pandemic, and the consequences were deplorable. The experience of many countries showed that an approach based only on healthcare settings was not effective in coping with the disease. The analysis of crisis management strategies of Italy and New Zealand demonstrates that countries need to engage scholars, policymakers, immunologists, hygienists, social scientists, virologists, communication and crises experts, and other professionals to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic successfully (Cepiku et al., 2021, p. 216). The main problem of most Western countries was related to the problem-recognition process. First, the countries denied the existence of the problem; then, they normalized the risk and underreacted; thirdly, they recognized and reframed the issue, and finally, they began to act and respond to it (Capano, 2020, p. 326). Such a reaction to the pandemic took time and led to numerous losses in many countries.
The level of preparedness and the absence or presence of a similar outbreak experience greatly impacts COVID-19 crisis management. Thus, inexperienced countries like New Zealand, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Australia, the use of a strict containment regime has proven to be successful (Capano, 2020, p. 326). In these countries, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases was minimal. On the other hand, in unprepared and inexperienced countries, such as Italy, the transmission of the virus was quick, and the mortality rates were extremely high (Capano, 2020, p. 327). As it is known, New Zealand is one of the countries with the lowest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and deaths. Therefore, it is important to examine its crisis management strategies to understand how it achieved such positive results. In contrast, the quantity of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths in Italy is extremely high, which means that the country used ineffective strategies or was socially unprepared for the pandemic. The major goal of this research paper is to compare and contrast the crisis management strategies of New Zealand and Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the government’s response, emergency management, and other actions taken to respond to the pandemic.
Background Information about the COVID-19 Pandemic
Coronavirus Disease 2019 has become a wicked problem for the global population. The first case of an unknown virus was reported in Wuhan, China, on 31 December 2019 (Santos, 2020, p. 1). After that, the epidemic of a new coronavirus infection started in China. In March 2020, the World Health Organization acknowledged the pandemic due to the speed and scale of the transmission of a new disease (Santos, 2020, p. 1). A pandemic can be defined as “[a]n epidemic occurring over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries, and usually affecting a large number of people” (as cited by Kvalsvig & Baker, 2021, p. 144). The new virus was similar to that of SARS-CoV—2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2), the outbreak of which was detected in 2003 (Santos, 2020, p. 1). However, the source of both types of viruses remained unknown. Scientists associated the origin of the virus with snakes, bats, and other animals that were sold at the Huanan Seafood Market in China. Bats and pangolins are considered the natural hosts of coronaviruses (Santos, 2020, p 1). Still, the disease spreads rapidly from human to human, and its causes and effects are difficult to identify due to its unstructured evolution.
The governments of different countries took different steps to eliminate the COVID-19 outbreak. Thus, New Zealand used a mitigation approach to manage the pandemic, while Italy applied an approach based on hospitals. Both countries implemented restrictive measures to cope with the spread of the disease. However, Italy has not updated its national plan against pandemics since 2005 and has not used most of its relevant recommendations (Capano, 2020, p. 328). Moreover, each region had its own organizational approach to the pandemic, and each regional community was accountable for its response. The absence of a single national strategy and other factors resulted in ineffective crisis management of this country. In comparison, New Zealand’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its elimination approach turned to be much more effective than that of Italy. The country’s government was held fully accountable for the crisis management of the disease, and a special Epidemic Response Committee was formed to cope with this problem (Jamieson, 2020, p. 599). Due to diverse approaches and other related issues, the countries demonstrated opposite results in their attempts to eliminate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research Aims and Methods
This research paper aims to compare and contrast the crisis management strategies of Italy and New Zealand during COVID-19. The research will be based on the literature review of credible scholarly sources and the most recent data about COVID-19 published on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) official website. The article will argue that an integrated approach and clear communication should be used to deal with the pandemic effectively. An integrated approach involves the engagement of different professionals, improved hospital care, case and contact management, the use of surveillance systems, and other methods.
The first part of the research paper will focus on the crisis management strategies against COVID-19 in New Zealand. The paper will review various scientific sources to examine and evaluate different strategies the country used to eliminate the pandemic. The next section will analyze the crisis management strategies against COVID-19 in Italy. Similarly, the research will be based on a literature review. Finally, the paper will compare and contrast the strategies used in both countries and discuss some possible barriers to the successful elimination of the pandemic.
Crisis Management Strategies against the COVID-19 Pandemic in New Zealand
New Zealand has shown a comparatively small number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to 2 November 2021, there have been 6,233 confirmed cases and 28 deaths (WHO COVID-19 Dashboard, 2021). Such a result may be related to the country’s geographical isolation, small population, strong central government, recent experience with disasters and crises, and a civil political environment (Jamieson, 2020, p. 598). However, these advantages are not the only reasons for an effective and successful response to COVID-19 elimination. First of all, the government of New Zealand demonstrated an early and decisive response to the pandemic. It managed to develop national unity and effective communication with the citizens and adjusted to changing circumstances. Moreover, the government of New Zealand used evidence-based, proactive policies to manage the pandemic effectively.
At the beginning of the pandemic, New Zealand utilized a mitigation strategy to address the spread of the disease. This strategy involved steps needed to slow down the entry of COVID-19, avert its early spread, and apply measures of physical distancing to avoid overwhelming medical services (Baker et al., 2020a, p. 198). The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, announced border closure on 15 March 2020 (Beattie & Priestley, 2021, p. 1). In several days, when 52 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed, Ardern announced a four-level alert system that was aimed at delaying the disease’s spread (Beattie & Priestley, 2021, p. 1). The levels of this alert system will be described further.
COVID-19 Alert System. Alert Level 1 was declared when the disease was contained in New Zealand. The risk assessment involved sporadic imported cases and the possibility of isolated local transmission in the country (Unite Against COVID-19, 2021). The measures that may be applied under this level include no restrictions on movement and gatherings and wearing face-covering in public places. Under Alert Level 2, it was recommended to work from home, reduce travel, and stay home if a person felt unwell or was over 70 (Beattie & Priestley, 2021, p. 1). Under Alert Level 3, more restrictive measures should be applied. Thus, this level is associated with a medium risk of disease transmission. These and other measures can be applied: distancing and face covering are legally required, public facilities are closed, and healthcare facilities should use online consultations (Unite Against COVID-19, 2021). Alert Level 4 occurs when the spread of the virus is intensive and quick, and the outbreaks are widespread. Under this level, no public gatherings are allowed, people should work and study from home, and traveling is prohibited (Unite Against COVID-19, 2021). All these measures are aimed at eliminating the spread of the pandemic and reduce community outbreaks.
The first secret of New Zealand’s success in eliminating disease transmission is its immediate response to the problem. New Zealand began to react to COVID-19 quickly, announcing Alert Level 3 when the number of confirmed cases achieved 102 (Beattie & Priestley, 2021, p. 2). Alert Level 4 was declared on 26 March 2020, and the country announced a stringent lockdown (Baker et al., 2020b, p. 1). When the number of COVID-19 cases began to decline in five weeks, the country moved to Alert Level 3 for two weeks (Baker et al., 2020b, p. 1). All people were ordered to stay at home, and this strategy worked well. On 8 June 2020, New Zealand moved to Alert Level 1, and the pandemic was declared to be over in 103 days after the first confirmed case (Baker et al., 2020b, p. 1). The question arises: how could a country, unprepared to cope with a disease threat, manage to eliminate COVID-19 in such a short term? The response to this question will be discussed further.
Quick Revision of a Pandemic Plan
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, New Zealand was mostly unprepared for it. The Global Health Security Index report assessed the country’s preparedness for a global pandemic with a score 54/100 (Kvalsvig & Baker, 2021, p. 143). The main problems of New Zealand were an understaffed epidemiology labor force, lack of regular training to test the response to an epidemic, and scarce obligation to report surveillance data (Kvalsvig & Baker, 2021, p. 143). The country had a strategic plan to deal with a pandemic, but it was a different pandemic: pandemic influenza. Thus, the government of New Zealand had to revise the existing plan and adjust it to the new conditions in the shortest term.
The history of New Zealand does not mention a lot of influenza-like pandemics. The last severe case of a virus outbreak occurred in 1918 when the country experienced an influenza pandemic (Kvalsvig & Baker, 2021, p. 144). During that natural disaster, almost 1 percent of people died from the disease in an eight-week period (Kvalsvig & Baker, 2021, p. 144). Despite the existence of an influenza-like pandemic experience, the government of New Zealand did not reassess its capability to handle similar pandemics in the future. The most recent pandemic plan was created in 2017, and it offered to respond to pandemics in six phases (Kvalsvig & Baker, 2021, p. 145). However, this plan was unsuitable for the COVID-19 pandemic because it did not ponder different transmission characteristics and its speed. Moreover, the plan considered the availability of a vaccine as a crucial step for recovery and the effectiveness of treatment on mortality and morbidity (Kvalsvig & Baker, 2021, p. 146). The plan’s main focus was on the mitigation stage, which is not effective in the case of COVID-19. Therefore, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, New Zealand had to reconsider its previous pandemic plan and emphasize the stage of elimination instead of mitigation.
Focus on Suppression over Mitigation
The difference between suppression and mitigation is that suppression aims to stop the disease’s spread while mitigation aims to slow down its transmission. New Zealand’s crisis management strategy was directed toward the prevention of COVID-19 disparities and minimization of the infection transit to low-income Pacific countries (Jefferies et al., 2020, p. 613). The strategy choice of the New Zealand government turned out to be effective. Thus, under Alert Level 2, the case infection rate was 8.5 per million people per day, while under the third level, it decreased by 62 percent to 3.2 per million people (Jefferies et al., 2020, p. 616). Since the main source of COVID-19 was overseas acquisition, the state aimed to isolate fully those people who returned from other countries.
The disease spread was effectively suppressed with rapid border closures and strict lockdowns. Most cases of COVID-19 were detected by contact tracing, and the state quickly increased population testing and decreased the time needed for isolation (Jefferies et al., 2020, p. 620). Physical distancing was mandatory, and it helped enhance the response to the pandemic. The high-risk population was tested in the first place, thus allowing it not to overburden the healthcare system. However, the country experienced several border failures and a moderate-sized outbreak in Auckland (August Cluster) (Kvalsvig & Baker, 2021, p. 147). Still, these cases were controlled, thus proving the effectiveness of the elimination strategy.
Governmental Response to COVID-19 Pandemic
Physical distancing, border closures, and testing were not the only measures taken by the government of New Zealand. All schools were closed immediately, and all students had to study online. Changes in medical supplies were also made to respond to the pandemic. The government eliminated tariffs on imports, medical goods, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure that all people have access to all necessary medications and PPEs (Dyer, P., 2021, p. 7). It also made all efforts to find tests and reactive agents, and additional PPEs on the global market. Since the main constraint of the country’s healthcare system was a limited number of ventilators and other necessary equipment, a stringent regime was a must to reduce COVID-19 cases and limit pressures on healthcare. All these measures, along with the four-level risk assessment system, helped the government of New Zealand successfully eliminate the spread of the disease.
In addition, the New Zealand Parliament created two new institutional arrangements to address the pandemic. The first one was the COVID-19 Ministerial Groups, which aimed to take governmental decisions that would ensure the effectiveness of the state’s response in the early stages (Dyer, P., 2021, p. 10). The second one was the Epidemic Response Committee, the task of which was to control all officials who worked on the COVID-19 pandemic response (Dyer, P., 2021, p. 10). These two institutions alleviated the Parliament’s work, making it more effective and successful.
Shifting from Elimination to Mitigation: Delta Outbreak
Although the elimination strategy turned out to be successful, the Prime Minister of New Zealand decided to shift from an elimination strategy to mitigation with the outbreak of the delta variant of COVID-19 in August 2021 (Dyer, O., 2021, p. 1). Ardern says, “Elimination was important because we didn’t have vaccines. Now we do, so we can begin to change the way we do things” (as cited by Dyer, O., 2021, p. 1). The changes are minimal, and the only region under lockdown is Auckland, where the outbreak was the most prominent. Later, the government plans to lift restrictions, allowing people to gather in groups and reopening businesses. Moreover, the state plans to change the recommended time limit between the doses of the Pfizer vaccine, allowing citizens to receive a second dose after a three-week gap (Dyer, O., 2021, p. 1). The vaccine will be obligatory for teachers and other population groups as in other developed and developing countries. The country plans to fully vaccinate at least 90 percent of eligible citizens to achieve good immunity (Dyer, O., 2021, p. 1). If the majority of people get vaccinated, strict suppression will be unnecessary.
One more reason why New Zealand is planning to shift from elimination to mitigation is the understanding of the fact that COVID-19 will never be eradicated internationally. Thus, stringent lockdowns and border closures are unrealizable for the nearest future. The state must learn to coexist with the virus to achieve endemicity, but this process will be uneasy. The main barrier to such an adaptation will be marginalized parts of society. For instance, the citizens of Māori and Pasifika are less vaccinated than all other population groups of New Zealand. It happens because marginalized groups are less interested in mainstream approaches, and the task of the state is to persuade them to get vaccinated before the virus reaches them (Dyer, O., 2021, p. 2). Currently, 80 percent of people receive their first shot of the vaccine, and 51 percent are fully vaccinated (Dyer, O., 2021, p. 1). If the remaining 20 percent of people who live in marginalized communities do not get vaccinated, the COVID-19 outbreak will be inevitable in New Zealand. Therefore, the state continues to eliminate the disease through vaccination, even though the other measures are less stringent than they were before.
Crisis Management Strategies Against the COVID-19 Pandemic in Italy
The situation of the COVID-19 spread in Italy is much more serious than in New Zealand. As of 1 November 2021, there have been 4,771,965 confirmed cases and 132,100 deaths (WHO COVID-19 Dashboard, 2021). The first case of this disease was stated on 21 February 2020, and the hospitalized patient was a 38-year-old man from Lodi, Northern Italy (Pratiwi & Salamah, 2020, p. 390). At the same time, in another region of Italy, the first death was fixed. Since then, the number of COVID-19 cases started to increase rapidly, and the pandemic has become “the most horrendous event after World War II” (Patiwi & Salamah, 2020, p. 390). The state was unprepared for the pandemic, and it had to respond to it quickly.
The Government Response and Strategy
Italians are people who like social gatherings and close contact with each other. Therefore, the spread of COVID-19 was massive in this country. Thus, Milan has close business relations with China, and those workers who travel abroad and attend international meetings could spread the virus in Northern Italy (Patiwi & Salamah, 2020, p. 390). Moreover, the virus spread in all other regions of Italy undetected, and when the government noticed it, it was already a massive outbreak. The number of deaths was high because of the high number of older people. The government had to forbid flights from and to China, but people continued to use connecting flights and concealed the places of their stay. The state was unprepared to deal with such a massive spread of the virus, and the outcomes were fatal for many people.
As the WHO (World Health Organization) assessed the coronavirus disease as a pandemic, the government of Italy proclaimed a state of emergency in the whole country. All restrictive measures were aimed at slowing and containing the spread of the virus and mitigating its effects on society (Vese, 2020, p. 2). Thus, a mitigation approach was chosen as the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy. The government of the state issued administrative measures to handle the situation in the country.
Administrative Measures. On 23 February 2020, the Italian government accepted Decree Law No. 6, entrusting the President of the Council of Ministers to handle the pandemic and distribute his administrative rulings (Vese, 2020, p. 3). This law allowed the Prime Minister to promulgate administrative measures that would ensure social distancing, determine lockdown areas, order to close businesses and workplaces, and contain financial operations (Vese, 2020, p. 3). At the beginning of the pandemic, all measures were taken gradually. First, only several regions were classified as “red zones,” and the government established a lockdown there (Vese, 2020, pp. 3-4). However, when the situation was critical and the number of confirmed cases increased, the state announced a national lockdown.
Schools and universities were closed before the announcement of a partial lockdown. Later, the government began to implement the following measures. New COVID-19 facilities were created in hospital settings, and the number of beds in pulmonary and infectious units increased by 100 percent (Cepiku et al., 2021, p. 218). Healthcare professionals who retired on a pension were allowed to return to work, while medical students were engaged in a fast hiring process (Cepiku et al., 2021, p. 218). All unimportant activities were restricted, and the citizens were not allowed to gather in big groups. The state provided financial support to families and businesses, and those who recovered from COVID-19 or had no or mild symptoms received territorial assistance.
National Plan for Preparation and Response to an Influenza Pandemic. In 2005, the Ministry of Health in Italy developed a pandemic plan, the main purpose of which was to deal with future pandemics that might occur in the country. The objectives of this plan were to identify the causes of new influenza type quickly, minimize the risk of its transmission, decrease the impact of the pandemic on social and health services, ensure that all healthcare personnel is trained in time, and monitor the fulfillment of all interventions (Bosa et al., 2021, p. 3). However, this plan was never updated or revised since its development, which means that it might be inapplicable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Three Phases of the Epidemic
As in many other countries, the Italian response to the pandemic was divided into three phases. The first phase was related to border control, closing borders for China, and limiting travel to this country (Wang et al., 2021, p. 3). It was initiated right after the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in China. The government of Italy established a surveillance system to detect and test suspects of having COVID-19. The first case of the new virus was detected on 20 February 2020 in a patient who had traveled abroad (Wang et al., 2021, p. 3). Within the next 24 hours, 36 more cases were confirmed, and those people were not connected to the first patient (Wang et al., 2021, p. 3). After that, the government announced Phase 2, dividing the country into Red, Yellow, and Safe Zones. In each of these zones, various measures were taken to address the virus spread. However, on 10 March 2020, a lockdown was announced in the whole country, and all social gatherings were prohibited (Wang et al., 2021, p. 3). Since that time, the lives of Italians have changed significantly.
Public health response was the most stringent during Phase 2. All public places, schools, and businesses were closed, and all commercial activities were restricted. Only pharmacies and supermarkets were allowed to work to provide people with all necessary products and medical equipment. The government stopped all non-essential production activities and required everyone to work from home. Testing policies were also modified, and patients with more severe clinical symptoms were tested out of turn (Wang et al., 2021, p. 3). Only after 3 May 2020, Phase 3 was declared, and all previous measures were relaxed step-by-step (Wang et al., 2021, p. 3). Similarly, the same phases were established during the second wave of the pandemic.
Italian Government’s Incremental Approach
Although the government of Italy acted in a similar way as other European governments did, its incremental approach was ineffective. According to Vese (2020), this approach is based on “the ‘progressive’ application of emergency measures by the Government in order to manage the ‘exponential’ spread of the virus” (p. 17). One can see that the Italian government did not announce a national lockdown immediately. Instead, each region established restrictions gradually until the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases was so high that the entire country had to declare a national lockdown.
Research showed that such a gradual implementation of administrative measures against the pandemic was ineffective. Thus, the government of Italy did not assess the risks properly, ignoring the fact that the spread of COVID-19 was rapid and wide (Vese, 2020, p. 18). Moreover, all levels of the government must share responsibility and offer administrative strategies simultaneously. However, in the case of Italy, the government and the regions were not in line with each other, which led to a rapid virus spread. The problem is that different branches of the government shared their emergency power ineffectively, and the lack of cooperation and understanding between them caused various problems. For example, the Campania Region decided to establish a more stringent lockdown locally than the government declared at the national level (Vese, 2021, p. 18). As a result, the government could not control all regions and assess the situation with COVID-19 spread effectively, thus damaging its credibility.
Changes in Supply and Hospital Facilities
The COVID-19 pandemic influenced the Italian physical infrastructure capacity, urgently making the state take necessary steps. Thus, the country had to build new healthcare facilities or rearrange the existing ones, creating additional intensive care units (ICUs) for COVID-19 patients (Bosa et al., 2021, p. 5). The state had to procure massive quantities of medical equipment and PPEs and hire additional medical staff to manage the disease. At the start of the pandemic, Italy had a limited number of ICU facilities. However, during the acute phase of the COVID-19 response, the number of ICU beds increased by 65 percent (Bosa et al., 2021, p. 5). To reduce the infection numbers, the government activated “52 contracts with national and international sellers, for a total amount of about 357 million EUR” to buy PPEs, ventilators, and oxygen flow meters (Bosa et al., 2021, p. 5). To address the workforce shortages, the government established inter-regional redistribution of medical workers, the re-hiring of healthcare practitioners who were retired, increased the number of new hires of personnel, and introduced the possibility of employing freelancers (Bosa et al., 2021, p. 7). Telemedicine was another innovation in the sphere of healthcare. All resources were channeled to COVID-19 patients, while many other operations and outpatient procedures were canceled or suspended. Italy did everything possible to reduce the spread of the disease and minimize mortality.
Comparison and Contrast of Crisis Management Strategies in New Zealand and Italy
Having analyzed crisis management strategies against the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy and New Zealand, one can see that both countries were unprepared for it. However, the countries had different approaches and responses to the pandemic, and one approach turned to be more efficient than the other one. Moreover, differences in healthcare systems and the mean age of the population played an important role in this fight against COVID-19. Even though both countries put all their efforts into managing the pandemic, New Zealand’s crisis management strategies were more successful than Italy’s.
Governmental Response to COVID-19 in Both Countries
As it was mentioned above, the response of New Zealand’s government was rapid. It introduced a four-level alert system on 21 March 2020, and the transition from level to level was fast (Jamieson, 2020, p. 599). In Italy, a similar system was introduced to the citizens as early as the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in China. The only difference is that the Italian government subdivided this system into three phases. Moreover, the transition from phase to phase was gradual, and every region announced its phase according to the situation with COVID-19 cases. Such a gradual response to the pandemic was one of the main reasons the country had so many confirmed cases of the new virus. In contrast, New Zealand’s immediate response to the pandemic and quick national lockdown helped the government avert the rapid transmission of the disease and minimize the number of confirmed cases and deaths.
The government of New Zealand took all responsibility and control of the situation with the pandemic. In spite of the harmful effect of COVID-19 on businesses, agriculture, hospitality, and tourism, the government’s main goal were to contain the virus (Jamieson, 2020, p. 601). In contrast, the government of Italy did not organize a rapid response to the pandemic. Instead, every region had its own regulations, and the government did not control them fully. Thus, the director-general of Istituto Bruno Leoni, Alberto Mingardi, claims, “The government invested much of its political capital to start new endeavors, particularly to nationalize business, but somehow it prioritized that over the management of the pandemic” (as cited by Barry, 2020, para. 13). One can see that such a misleading and poor communication of the government with different regions led to misunderstanding and slow response to the pandemic.
In comparison, the government of New Zealand demonstrated effective public communication. It organized daily briefings, delivering new information to the citizens and public servants. The public received information about COVID-19 and the government’s response to it, emphasized the requirements of each Alert Level, and replied to the media’s questions (Beattie & Priestley, 2021, p. 2). People were well-informed about the virus spread, and they trusted the government, adhering to its recommendations and requirements.
Italian government failed to manage the pandemic due to poor communication. Thus, the citizens of Italy received mixed messages from various sources, which confused them and affected their trust in the government (Ruiu, 2020, p. 1007). For instance, the media reported competing versions of events, increasing the gap between believers and skeptics (Ruiu, 2020, p. 1015). New details about COVID-19 were released with delays, and the government did not react properly to rumors. Consequently, people did not believe in the government and did not want to change their habits and stay at home. Moreover, some cafes and bars did not obey the restrictions and continued to work during the lockdown, and people did not reduce their social interactions (Ruiu, 2020, p. 1015). The lack of clear instructions and governmental authority led to the rapid spread of the disease in Italy. In contrast, clear instructions and effective communication helped New Zealand manage the pandemic effectively.
Health System Response
The health systems in both countries were not ready to manage the pandemic. However, different approaches to healthcare and funding led to diverse outcomes in each of these countries. For example, the government of New Zealand encouraged its citizens to vaccinate against influenza early and get as many people vaccinated as possible (Cumming, 2021, p. 8). The government of Italy was not as purposeful as that of New Zealand. Thus, the Italian Ministry of Health has urged regions to start ordering flu vaccines before the pandemic, but the government of Lombardy (the most affected region in Europe) did not order vaccines until September (Paterlini, 2020, p. 1). The citizens of this region started their vaccination only in the second half of October when the virus had already been spread.
The number of hospital facilities increased significantly in both countries. In Italy, the number of ICU beds increased by 65 percent during the acute phase of the pandemic (Bosa et al., 2021, p. 5). In New Zealand, 153 ICU beds were available at the beginning of the pandemic, and over 560 beds had the potential to be repurposed (Cumming, 2021, p. 9). It may seem that the number of beds was insufficient in New Zealand. However, the number of severe cases was relatively low. The Ministry of Health reported that 122 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, and only 17 spent time in ICU (Cumming, 2021, p. 9). In comparison, the Italian health system suffered from the lack of ICUs even after their increase.
- Supply of PPEs and Medical Equipment. In Italy, a lack of supply of masks, gowns, eyeglasses, and gloves led to the loss of many health professionals’ lives (Leo & Trabucchi, 2020, p. 1163). An insufficient number of ventilators forced health practitioners to make difficult ethical decisions, choosing whose life to save at first. Although the government of Italy organized the procurement and distribution of PPEs and additional medical devices, it was still not enough for a high number of patients. In comparison, the government of New Zealand affirmed that there was enough supply of PPEs and medical equipment, and hospitals had a sufficient number of ventilators (Cumming, 2021, p. 9). The country ordered additional materials in time, and there was no big deficiency.
- Medical Staff Preparedness. In both countries, there were some problems with the medical staff’s preparedness for the pandemic. In New Zealand, nurses and other health practitioners expressed their concerns about using high-level N95/P2 masks instead of common surgical masks (Cumming, 2021, p. 9). They received additional training on how to deliver healthcare and conduct testing and contact tracing. In Italy, family doctors were afraid of seeing patients with signs of COVID-19 and their family members (Leo & Trabucchi, 2020, p. 1162). They tried to keep sick people at home and assist them from a distance. As a result, some older patients died in isolation, while others came to the hospital with severe symptoms (Leo & Trabucchi, 2020, p. 1162). Such unpreparedness of health professionals to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the loss of many people’s lives. Although the Italian medical staff received training later, the losses were significant by that time.
Having reviewed the crisis management strategies against the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy and New Zealand, one can conclude that both countries tried to respond to this disease as effectively as they could. However, New Zealand was in a better geographical position, and its government was more confident in its actions. Its strict and rapid response to the pandemic was successful since it helped reduce the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and minimized mortality and morbidity. The government was constantly reviewing the situation, based its response on science, and did not panic. Its Alert Level Framework response was also successful, and it covered the whole country. In Italy, however, the situation was worse due to several factors:
- The number of senior populations in Italy is much higher than that in New Zealand.
- The government’s miscommunication and uncertainty negatively affected the citizens’ trust and made them doubt its authority.
- A huge deficiency of PPEs, medical equipment, and ICU beds was another problem influencing the transmission of the virus in Italy.
- A three-phase approach was applied in different regions differently.
Every region decided when to announce a red, yellow, or safe zone, and the regional governments did not discuss it with the government of the whole country. All these factors contributed to such an inadequate response in Italy to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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