In February 2021, an undated screenshot of a tweet spread on Reddit and Imgur, which purportedly described the way New Zealand handled the COVID-19 pandemic (with an unvoiced but inherent contrast with the United States):
No date was visible on either screenshot. The tweet read:
When Covid hit New Zealand the government said “Everybody, no going to work for two weeks, there $7k in your bank account we added.” That’s how they started, day one. Now they don’t have Covid. We can’t imagine doing that, so…. here we are
Pandemic Relief in the United States as of February 2021
As the threads on Reddit and Imgur gained traction on February 1 2021, there was a lot of online discussion about pandemic relief for Americans:
What I don’t understand is why Dems AREN’T pushing for $2000 checks. Yes you can argue that a new payment added to an old payment makes a sum total of 2k and thus “counts” but since we all agree direct payments have been inadequate why not just demand 2k instead?
— Nathan J Robinson (@NathanJRobinson) February 1, 2021
Global understanding of the looming effects of a burgeoning pandemic was shaped in large part when Imperial College London published “Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand,” addressing shortfalls in available response resources before vaccines or other pharmaceutical interventions could be introduced — measures researchers described as “profound”:
We therefore conclude that epidemic suppression is the only viable strategy at the current time. The social and economic effects of the measures which are needed to achieve this policy goal will be profound. Many countries have adopted such measures already, but even those countries at an earlier stage of their epidemic (such as the UK) will need to do so imminently.
By March 20 2020, the UK introduced measures to pay workers across Britain “to keep them in jobs as the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak escalates”:
In an unprecedented step for the British government, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said the state would pay grants covering up to 80% of the salary of workers if companies kept them on their payroll, rather than lay them off as the economy crashes. The extraordinary payments will be worth up to a maximum of £2,500 per month, just above the median income.
New Zealand’s Pandemic Protocols and Outcomes
On March 17 2020 — the same day that Imperial College London published its initial report — The Guardian reported that New Zealand had announced a spending package in order to respond proactively to the pandemic:
The NZ$12.1bn stimulus includes wage subsidies, bolstering the healthcare sector’s response to the virus, more money for low-income families and those on social welfare, and changes to business tax.
Full-time workers will receive $585 per week under the scheme – currently set to end on 30 June – with $350 paid to part-time workers.
On March 16 2020, the New Zealand Herald mentioned the $7,000 figure seen in the tweet:
The Government has unveiled a $12.1 billion support package for the New Zealand economy, with almost half of the cash to be spent on a wage subsidy package for all coronavirus-impacted businesses.
Those full-time workers eligible for the package will receive $585 per week from the Government, paid in a lump sum package of just over $7000 covering a 12-week period.
The Government is also raising benefits by $25 a week, starting April 1 , and doubling the Winter Energy Payment.
In July 2020, New Zealand entered a new phrase of pandemic discourse when a Reddit post about rugby matches went viral:
New Zealand stayed in the discussion thanks to claims the United States issued a “travel advisory” for the country, which had by then wiped out community spread of the virus. A similar discussion took place when a viral rumor inaccurately stated that the White House had more active cases of COVID-19 than all of New Zealand:
Those February 1 2021 posts on Reddit and Imgur featured the handle of the user responsible for the tweet, but — as we mentioned earlier — it lacked a date.
Initial searches for the tweet were unfruitful, and it soon became apparent the user (@Braunger) deleted the tweet, which was originally published on July 17 2021. In an archived version we found, @Braunger initially responded to his own tweet:
“That didn’t happen exactly day one,” “It was a stimulus,” “That wouldn’t work here.” Solid points, but you get the point I’m making? We did NOTHING for weeks. They acted FAST and got $ moving right away. Please let that be the take away here, thanks. We need to change.
Another user, @friesfanclub, replied:
Correction, this $7k was given to employers to redistribute as a subsidy to employees, not as a personal stimulus. Some did, some didn’t. It’s not a perfect system, many are still out of pocket. In saying that, we don’t have COVID and our healthcare doesn’t bankrupt people so 🤷🏻♀️
That particular claim — that the $7,000 was given to employers to redistribute, not as a personal stimulus allowance — appeared to have been substantiated in a March 2020 “Wage subsidy scheme factsheet” [PDF] issued by the government of New Zealand:
A six person forestry contracting gang in Gisborne has been severely affected by the COVID-19 impact on logging exports and their revenue is down 90 per cent. Their Employer applies for the targeted wage subsidy. The Employer receives $42,117 as a lump sum payment and is able to provide just over $7,000 gross (before tax) to each of the employees across the next 12 weeks.
Haha. I think he’s talking about the first 12 week wage subsidy payment. Nothing like that in the US, it’s brutal over there 😔
— Richard Hills (@richardhills777) July 17, 2020
Who actually got close to 7k cause let me tell you I got 2k which I had to fight for. Oh and I couldn’t go to work for 7 weeks. https://t.co/Uz5OTVkYca
— Hana Chatani (@hanpanmangaki) July 18, 2020
i want to be inside this man’s brain to see what exactly he read about us and how he extrapolated it to this https://t.co/cKd9SaGeUz
— henry cooke (@henrycooke) July 18, 2020
Although the tweet clearly retained its popularity in screenshots well past its deletion due to both technology that allowed for screenshots and Americans’ absence of direct aid, its accuracy was disputed by commenters in New Zealand. In a deleted response to his own tweet, @Braunger said that the overall point was less about the $7,000, and more about New Zealand’s early and swift response to the pandemic.
As “second stimulus” discourse continued in the United States on February 1 2020, a deleted July 2020 tweet about New Zealand’s methods for suppressing COVID-19 understandably resonated with people living in the United States, a country with high rates of transmission and little direct aid. The tweet was popular on Reddit and Imgur; its author apparently deleted it after Aotearoans disputed the accuracy of the claim. A “fact sheet” issued by New Zealand in March 2020 indicated the twelve-week, $7,000 sum was in fact not expressly direct — but ongoing statistics indicated that New Zealand did manage to effectively suppress community transmission. As of February 1 2021, Google’s case tracker indicated a high of nine total cases in New Zealand on January 21 2021.