“If only the United States had been like New Zealand”

I see frequent assertions on social media – daily – that if only the U.S. had put residents under house arrest sooner, or put travel restrictions in sooner, or ordered use of arbitrary cloth face masks sooner – then the outcome in the U.S. would be just like New Zealand, an island nation with few cases.

New Zealand

United States

  • The first case in the United States was detected on January 20th and publicly announced on January 21.
  • On January 31, 2020, the U.S. closed access from China and from Iran on February 23.
  • The second case in the U.S. was detected on February 23. Italy established its first lock downs in limited areas of Italy on February 22.
  • The first death in the U.S. was announced on February 29.
  • March 11th, the US suspends most travel from most EU countries.
  • My own state was in lock down on March 23d. Even access to non-emergency health care was shut down.
  • A later CDC study found Covid-19 antibodies in blood samples taken December 13, 2019, throughout the U.S.
  • Covid-19 was spreading in December, and possibly (due to the presence of antibodies) earlier than that. That means Covid-19 was in the U.S. up to 3 months before the first documented case in NZ.

According to the World Health Organization (October, 2019) travel restrictions are generally ineffective except for some island nations and only if implemented very early in the outbreak.

People erroneously assume that Covid-19 hit every country, identically, on exactly the same day but that is a false assumption. Everyone ignores the “time dimension” and the effects that has on Covid-19 outcomes.

Second, there are many factors in play. For example, the early cases appear to have arrived directly from China. The amount of travel between China and other countries varied greatly. Between the time the first case was publicly identified in China and the time travel restrictions went in to effect, over 430,000 people flew from China to the U.S. over the next 4 weeks. Even after restrictions went into effect, another 40,000 people made the trip. (I could not find numbers for NZ and Australia.)

For the U.S. to potentially achieve results similar to NZ, the entire U.S. would have had to go into lockdown by the end of December, and certainly within January. Politically, this would have been impossible – I have several saved social media posts from politicians and media celebrities who condemned initial U.S. travel restrictions, and condemned China’s “lockdown” policies.

In many states, including mine, we went into house arrest the 3rd week of March and depending on the location in the state, remained there for up to 13 weeks.

The U.S. and New Zealand were not playing on the same playing field.

New Zealand had a head start on hunting for Covid-19 because it was late to the party. The time dimension matters.

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