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Much has changed in New Zealand since the Government imposed a nation-wide lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on 26 March 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic response has impacted on people’s well-being to varying degrees through a wide range of interconnected issues, such as economic security, mental health, social connections, housing, food security and employment, just to name a few. Furthermore, the impacts have not been universal or consistent across the country, demographics, or sectors and nor were people’s responses.

This project, undertaken by social researchers from Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, explored how people navigated their COVID-19 response and what that meant for their continued well-being. It investigated if or how people coped and adapted to the significant societal changes that have unfolded due to the pandemic. Through this, it sought to identify important intervention points that can contribute to improving well-being and how that influenced ongoing public acceptance of the approaches and tools used to manage the COVID-19 response; thereby contributing to the Government’s Social Licence to Operate. The research also identified post-COVID shifts in what is important to people – i.e. what activities people would like to keep and be developed, and what activities people would like to leave behind.

Understanding how people navigated their COVID-19 response and what sort of societal changes people want to see moving forward provides important information to inform future planning for New Zealand. Key insights from this research are provided below.

Further background and methodological information on the Maximising Well-being Post COVID-19 project can be found below.

COVID-19 Response

Government Response

The global COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant effect on people’s well-being. Participants spoke to how well the Government had handled the response and the effect that had on their well-being.

COVID-19 Communications

Government communications about the COVID-19 pandemic response contributed to people’s sense of well-being. The science-based approach the Government has taken in their response thinking, planning, and communication was well received and it was hoped this approach would be adopted and expanded into other spheres beyond the COVID-19 response.


Building a Better Society

New Zealand’s post COVID-19 response was seen as an opportunity to initiate significant societal change. Participants saw it as an opportunity, not to just build back or return to normal, but to build a better society.

Building a Sense of Community

Having a strong sense of community is important for the current and future well-being of New Zealand. The COVID-19 pandemic has built or rekindled a sense of community throughout New Zealand, and this has important implications for the ongoing COVID-19 response. In particular, there is an opportunity for vaccination messaging to capitalise on this concern for each other.

Gender Impacts

Pandemics make existing gender inequalities worse. Moving forward post COVID-19, participants hoped that the gendered nature of economic, social, and political processes would receive more attention, and that more gender analysis is put into the pandemic response effort for the future well-being of New Zealand.


While not solely a manifestation of COVID-19, the detrimental effect of inequality on societal wellbeing (i.e., living well together) has been brought to the fore by the pandemic. Improving equality was a strong focus in participants suggestions for how New Zealand should respond post COVID-19 and the type of society we should be striving to achieve.

Livelihood Resilience

Livelihood resilience concerns people’s capacity to cope with and recover from environmental, economic, or social stresses and shocks while sustaining or enhancing their livelihood opportunities and wellbeing. Inequality and poverty are real issues in New Zealand and not everyone has the capacity or resources to easily cope with pandemic stay-at-home orders. Consequently, this has societal wellbeing implications beyond those it directly affects.

Social Connections

A common reflection on lockdown by participants was how it highlighted the importance of social connections and relationships to their well-being.

Social Licence to Operate

New Zealand’s well-being post COVID-19 will largely depend on the actions of Government. The level of confidence communities of interest have in those actions represents the Government’s Social Licence to Operate (SLO). Trust in the Government is high following its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, building and maintaining SLO is a long-term, continuous process.


Health System

The focus of the pandemic response on health and well-being led participants to reflect on the state of the health system. Participants wanted to see health reforms and greater spending on health to produce a healthcare system that met the needs of all New Zealanders.

Mental health and well-being – individual perspective

The importance of people’s mental health and well-being was highlighted by interviewees. COVID-19 created feelings of isolation, fear, and uncertainty for some interviewees while others described how they were worried about their family members, friends, or neighbours either in New Zealand or overseas.

New Zealand mental health and well-being

In New Zealand the mental challenges of social isolation were recognised early in the COVID 19 lockdown and people were encouraged to talk about the challenges. However, talking about the effects of COVID 19 and the lockdown was not always easy, and different strategies were used to cope.

Physical Well-being

Physical activity and exercise are good for improving well-being as they can have positive benefits for health, anxiety, and stress. Participants spoke of the benefits and barriers to their physical well-being during lockdown.


Rethinking the Economy

The economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and what that might mean for people’s individual and New Zealand’s collective future wellbeing was a key theme raised during the research. While a strong economy was seen as essential, many did not like the thought of going back to the previous economic growth model that put money before people and the environment.

Small Businesses

Participants with small businesses varied in their success at navigating the pandemic response. Some participants reported that their businesses fared well following lockdown. Others didn’t fare as well or knew first-hand of others who were struggling.


Tourism is an important part of our economy, which had been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. While participants recognised the importance of tourism to New Zealand, they did not want to see a return to the tourism model that operated in New Zealand pre COVID-19.


Urban Green Spaces

The well-being benefits of connecting with nature were a common theme from our interviews, and the movement restrictions of lockdown highlighted the important role urban green spaces play in this.

The Environment and Well-being

The environment plays a significant role in people’s well-being. While being able to connect with nature provided many positive well-being experiences, concerns about environmental degradation had the opposite effect. Participants were worried that environmental issues are being overlooked, or have been given a low priority, due to COVID-19.

Young people


A key feature of New Zealand’s COVID-19 response was the decision to have children continue their education from home during lockdown. For some parents and children this worked well, but for others it was a struggle. Experiences were impacted by the availability of technology, different processes run by different schools, through to differences in home situations.


Parents, grandparents, teachers, and caregivers spoke of the impacts they observed in their children or the children in their care, and for the concerns they had for children due to the COVID-19 pandemic response.

Teenagers and Young Adults

A common area of concern raised by participants was the long-term economic impacts of the pandemic response, and the economy in general, on younger generations, and what that might mean for their future prospects.

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