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To be fair, it’s probably easier to be a COVID-19 denier in New Zealand than in the United States. The island country has effectively eliminated the virus, twice, and life is now carrying on largely as normal.
However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect to be absolutely torn to pieces if you start spouting virus conspiracy theories in public there. Sadly for one man, conspicuous by his American accent, that is exactly what happened at a campaign rally in the city of Tauranga this week.
The COVID denier piped up at a campaign event led by Winston Peters, leader of the New Zealand First party, and deputy prime minister in the coalition with prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party. Ardern’s government has been glowingly praised around the world for its decisive pandemic response which has seen New Zealand record one of the lowest death tolls from the virus on the planet, at only 25 people.
The man, who wasn’t named in a news report about the incident from TVNZ, can be heard on video doubting that the virus exists. “Where’s your evidence that there is a virus that causes the disease?” the man asked, apparently holding something he’d printed out from the internet.
The denier had already annoyed Peters by trying to ask more than his one allotted question, so the lawmaker didn’t hold back in his response to the man. “Sit down, sit down,” said the deputy prime minister. “We’ve got someone who obviously got an education in America—220,000 people have died in the U.S., there are eight million cases to date.”
Peters added: “We’ve got 79,000 cases just today, probably in India, and here is someone who gets up and says ‘the Earth is flat.’” The deputy PM then witheringly told the man: “Sorry, sunshine, wrong place.”
Inevitably, the man didn’t realize that he’d been resoundingly humiliated in public and tried to respond to what Peters had said, but he was told: “Quiet, we have manners at our meetings as well.”
Last week, New Zealand moved to lift the last of its virus restrictions after going 10 days with no new cases in Auckland, which had experienced a small cluster. Unrestricted gatherings are allowed throughout the nation, and there’s no physical distancing rules in bars and restaurants.
To date, New Zealand has recorded 1,800 positive tests and 25 deaths, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S., meanwhile, has tallied over 7,800,000 cases and 215,000 deaths.