Trying to defend his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump has pointedly noted in August that there have been recent spikes in cases even in countries widely praised for their own pandemic efforts.
Trump’s latest claim, about New Zealand, is the most misleading of all.
“New Zealand, by the way, had a big outbreak,” he said at a White House news conference on Wednesday. “And other countries that were held up to try and make us look not as good as we should look – because we’ve done an incredible job – but they’re having a lot of outbreaks…”
Similarly, in a campaign speech in Minnesota on Monday, Trump said that people are now saying “whoops” for having held up other countries as good examples. He said that while it had been front-page news that New Zealand supposedly “beat” the virus, “The problem is, big surge in New Zealand.”
Facts First: New Zealand does not have a “big surge” or a “big outbreak.” While the country is experiencing an uptick in cases, it is a tiny uptick from almost no cases at all. New Zealand reported nine new cases on Monday, 13 on Tuesday, six on Wednesday and five on Thursday. The US, conversely, reported 35,112 new cases on Monday, 44,091 on Tuesday and 47,408 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University data. (Complete Thursday data for the US isn’t available yet, but there were more than 20,000 new cases reported as of 2:30 PM.)
As an island nation, New Zealand has some inherent advantages over the US in keeping out viruses that originate abroad. Any way you slice the numbers, though, New Zealand has done and is still doing far better than the US. New Zealand has 22 total reported coronavirus deaths for the entirety of the pandemic. The US has reported more than 173,000 total deaths. It reported 445 new deaths on Monday alone, 1,324 on Tuesday and 1,356 on Wednesday.
New Zealand had 1,654 total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases through Thursday, the US more than 5.5 million cases through Wednesday. In other words, the US has more confirmed cases than New Zealand has people.
Even if you adjust for population – New Zealand has about five million people, the US about 330 million – New Zealand’s situation is not even remotely close to as bad as the US situation. The US has 1,696 cases per 100,000 people, New Zealand 34 cases per 100,000 people.
That is not to dismiss the New Zealand uptick as a non-issue. As Americans know, small spikes can quickly turn into big spikes. New Zealand has imposed strict restrictions on its most populous city, Auckland, to try to quash the new outbreak, which followed a 102-day streak without any recorded local transmission of the virus.
Still, it’s ridiculous to suggest New Zealand somehow makes the US look any better, as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern noted on Tuesday. She called Trump’s comments “patently wrong.”
“Obviously, I don’t think there’s any comparison between New Zealand’s current cluster and the tens of thousands of cases that are being seen daily in the United States,” she said.
“Look, I think for anyone who’s following Covid in its transmission globally will quite easily see that New Zealand’s nine cases in a day does not compare to the United States tens of thousands – in fact, does not compare to most countries in the real world. I’m not concerned about people misinterpreting our status.”