Cars line up at a pop-up community COVID-19 testing station at a supermarket carpark in Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday, April 17, 2020. New Zealand is into week four of a 28-day lockdown in a bid to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

NZ rejects US President’s COVID-19 comparisons

George Driver August 25, 2020

AAP FactCheck Investigation: Did the US record as many COVID-19 cases in 22 seconds as New Zealand did in a day?

The Statement

“The American people can work out that we have [the same number of COVID-19 cases] for a whole day what they have every 22 seconds of a day.”

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, August 18, 2020.

The Analysis

When US President Donald Trump called into question New Zealand’s record on managing COVID-19, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters pointed out the vast disparity in the number of cases in the two countries.

Speaking on the tarmac of an airport in Minnesota on August 17, Mr Trump told a crowd there had been a “big surge” of cases in New Zealand.

“In fact even New Zealand, you see what’s going on in New Zealand? They beat it, they beat it. It was like front page, ‘they beat it’, because they wanted to show me something,” Mr Trump said.

“The problem is, big surge in New Zealand. So, you know, it’s terrible. We don’t want that,” Trump said (video mark 29min 31sec).

The comments drew scorn from New Zealand politicians.

Speaking to RNZ, Mr Peters tried to put the outbreak in New Zealand in perspective. (video mark 1min)

“The American people can work out that we have [the same number of COVID-19 cases] for a whole day what they have every 22 seconds of a day,” Mr Peters said. “That speaks for itself.”

The video of Mr Peters’ statement has been viewed over 34,000 times on YouTube and his comments were reported around the world, including in Forbes and Huffington Post.

But is the claim correct?

The World Health Organization (WHO) Situation by Country tables, the US recorded 54,375 on August 17, the most recent date for which figures were available when Mr Peters made his claim, on the afternoon of August 18.

This equates to the equivalent of 0.629 cases a second, or 13.8 cases in 22 seconds.

Figures from the US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show two different figures for the number of cases recorded in the country on August 17. The graph of New Cases by Day states there were 38,986 new cases recorded, whereas the data in the table below the graph puts that figure at 39,318 cases for the same date.

Regardless of which statistic is used, it equates to about 10 cases in 22 seconds –  9.92 cases in 22 seconds for the first statistic, and 10.01 for the latter

By contrast, according to the Ministry of Health and WHO, on August 17 New Zealand recorded nine new cases.

However, Mr Peters made his statement after updated figures for New Zealand were released at 1pm on August 18, showing the country as having 13 cases in the 24 hours to 9am that day.

Based on the most up-to-date figures available to Mr Peters at the time of his statement, New Zealand had recorded 13 cases in 24 hours, whereas the US had recorded the equivalent of between 10 and 13.8 cases in 22 seconds on that same day.

Using the seven-day average of New Cases By Day statistics calculated by the CDC, on August 17 the US had an average of 48,674 cases, or the equivalent of 12.4 cases in 22 seconds.

In the seven days up to and including August 17 in NZ, which happens to cover the entirety of the recent COVID-19 outbreak, the country recorded 61 cases, or an average of 8.7 cases a day.

Cars line up at a pop-up COVID-19 testing station in New Zealand
 NZ politicians have rejected US President Donald Trump’s remarks about their management of COVID-19. 

The Verdict

Mr Peters’ statement that the US recorded as many COVID-19 cases in 22 seconds as New Zealand recorded in a day was close to the mark across all data sets, but not completely accurate.

Based on the most recent WHO figures when Mr Peters made his statement, the US recorded the equivalent of 13.8 cases in 22 seconds, while New Zealand recorded 13 cases for an entire day.

However, figures from America’s CDC show fewer cases for the US, with the equivalent of 10 cases in 22 seconds on August 17.

When COVID-19 new case figures are averaged over the preceding week they show the US recorded 12.4 cases in 22 seconds – more than New Zealand’s daily average.

Somewhat True – A part or parts of the claim are accurate but there is also a significant problem or inaccuracy.

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