We’ve seen President Trump get into the occasional spat with a variety of world leaders in the past, ranging from Xi Jinping to Angela Merkel to Justin Trudeau. But one I didn’t expect or see coming would be a back-and-forth with the Prime Minister of New Zealand. I mean, talk about punching down. I don’t think the President started out planning to get into a spat with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, but his comments were just part of his normal stream-of-consciousness Q&A style. He was asked yet again about upticks in COVID-19 cases yesterday and he pushed back, saying that some countries that had done very well in suppressing the virus were now running into problems. That’s when he invoked New Zealand, saying that nation had been held up as having “beat the virus” but now they are experiencing a “big surge in New Zealand.”
That didn’t sit well with Ardern and she quickly went out before the press in her country to say that Trump had gotten it all “patently wrong.” And she went on to defend the draconian tactics she’s employed to keep their numbers low. (NPR)
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says President Trump’s claim that New Zealand now has a “big surge” in coronavirus cases is “patently wrong,” adding that the two countries are not comparable in how they handle the pandemic.
“We are still one of the best-performing countries in the world when it comes to COVID,” Ardern said on Tuesday. “Our workers are focused on keeping it that way.”
Trump’s remarks came on Monday — the same day New Zealand reported nine new cases, and the U.S. added nearly 42,000. But the U.S. president, speaking to supporters at an airport in Mankato, Minn., claimed New Zealand was an example of a country that had early success in fighting the outbreak, only to struggle now.
To be fair to New Zealand here, saying they had a “big surge” isn’t particularly accurate. Their “surge” consisted of nine cases, all in one family in Aukland. There were reports of additional positive tests at a food processing facility where one of the family members worked, but those were later walked back a bit as being possibly unconfirmed. Still, whether it’s nine cases or nineteen or ninety (the highest quote we’ve seen), that’s not exactly a massive uptick in a nation of nearly five million people, so she probably has a point.
But Ardern wasn’t happy with simply stopping there. She went on to insist that there’s “no comparison between New Zealand’s current cluster and the tens of thousands of cases that are being seen daily in the United States.” Lady! What are you doing? You had a graceful exit from the conversation in hand and then you decided you had to taunt the bear?
Ardern also circled back to her normal pattern of bragging about how New Zealand is handling the virus better than almost any other place in the world. But if it’s so under control, then why did you slam your largest city back into a total lockdown and postpone your elections by a month? Yes, the virus will likely die off again in New Zealand within a couple of weeks, but as I asked in the article I just linked… at what cost?
Ardern’s citizens are on a rollercoaster ride, going from total freedom to move about to being in solitary confinement. Yes, that’s one way to “beat” the virus, but it’s unsustainable in the long run. Her economy is already taking a beating and their tourist industry has vanished. Now she’s decided to jump into a spat with the United States. The Australians at least recognize that America is their friend and faithful defender and tend to avoid any spats with Donald Trump, even if he gives them an opening. This is probably one fight that Ardern would have been better off avoiding by simply ignoring Trump’s one-off comment to a reporter on the other side of the world.