New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hit back on Tuesday against U.S. President Donald Trump for saying her country is experiencing a “big surge” in COVID-19, calling the remarks “patently wrong”.
Trump sparked uproar in New Zealand when he told a crowd in Minnesota that the South Pacific country of 5 million people was in the grip of a “terrible” upsurge in coronavirus cases, having earlier succeeded in eliminating the disease.
Thirteen new infections were confirmed in New Zealand on Tuesday, taking the country’s total number of cases since the pandemic began to 1,293, with 22 deaths. This compares with the U.S. tally of more than 5.2 million cases and 170,000 deaths.
“You see what’s going on in New Zealand?” Trump said.
“They beat it, they beat it, it was like front page they beat it … because they wanted to show me something.
“The problem is … big surge in New Zealand, you know it’s terrible. We don’t want that.”
Ardern said there was no comparison between New Zealand’s handful of new cases a day and the “tens of thousands” reported in the United States.
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“I think anyone who’s following COVID and 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, and in fact does not compare to most countries in the world,” she told reporters.
“Obviously it’s patently wrong,” she said of Trump’s comments.
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“We are still one of the best-performing countries in the world when it comes to COVID … our workers are focused on keeping it that way.”
New Zealand’s death rate per 100,000 people, at about 0.44, is one of the lowest in the world thanks to strict lockdowns enforced early in the pandemic. The United States has a death rate of 5.21 per 100,000, one of the highest in the world.
Outbreak remains a mystery
New Zealand has fared far better than most countries during the pandemic, but an abrupt resurgence of COVID-19 last week in Auckland prompted the government to extend a lockdown for the city’s 1.7 million residents until Aug. 26, while social distancing rules are in place in other towns and cities.
The origin of the latest outbreak is still unknown, but authorities earlier on Tuesday ruled out the possibility that it came from frozen food items or freight.
“Seems clear now that the possibility is being ruled out from that investigation,” Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told reporters.
New Zealanders celebrated when the country passed 100 days without any community transmission earlier this month.
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With an election due in mid-October, Ardern is keen to remind voters of her government’s track record on fighting the virus.
“Every other single country in the world has experienced resurgence. We went longer than many, our outbreak is certainly not as significant as what we are seeing in Vietnam, in Hong Kong, in South Korea or in Australia,” she told state broadcaster TVNZ.
(Additional reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney; Editing by Stephen Coates)