Purpose: The authors unpack the critical role of rhetoric in developing and justifying the New Zealand (NZ) government's coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) lockdown strategy.
Design/methodology/approach: Using Green's (2004) theory of rhetorical diffusion, the authors analysed government documents and media releases before, during and after the lockdown to reconstruct the government's rationale.
Findings: The blending of kairos (sense of urgency and “right” time to act), ethos (emphasis on “saving lives”), pathos (fear of disruption and death) and selective use of health-based logos (shrinking infection rates), prompted fast initial adoption of the lockdown. However, support for the rhetoric wavered post-lockdown as absence of robust logos became apparent to the public.
Research limitations/implications: The authors implicate the role of rhetoric in decision-makers’ ability to successfully elicit support for a new practice under urgency and the right moment to act using emotionalisation and moralisation. The assessment of the NZ government's response strategy provides insights decision-makers could glean in developing policies to tame the virus.
Practical implications: This study’s analysis demonstrates the unsustainability of rhetoric in the absence of reliable information.
Originality/value: The authors demonstrate the consequences of limited (intermittent) evidence and disregard for accounting/accountability data in public policy decisions under a rhetorical strategy.
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